For quite awhile now I’ve had this post in mind but didn’t have the time to dig into it as much as I would have liked. I still don’t have the time I would like to do this piece justice but was able to pull some quotes together for you.
While there were hundreds (if not thousands) of people executed during the Tudor reign – today I have focused on some of the most recognizable ones and hope I do them all justice. Before you say it, I’m sure there are some that I have forgotten – if so, please leave a comment below and mention who I missed and I’ll turn it into a second post.
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Edward Stafford, 3rd Duke of Buckingham (1521):
The Duke of Norfolk, as a judge, said, “Sir Edward, you have heard how you be indicted of high treason, you pleaded not guilty, putting yourself to the peers of the realm, who have found you guilty”, then the Duke of Norfolk wept and said, “you shall be led to the king’s prison and there laid on a herdill and so drawn to the place of execution, and there to be hanged, cut down alive, your members to be cut off and cast into the fire, your bowels burnt before you, your head smitten off, and your body quartered and divided at the king’s will, and God have mercy on your soul. Amen.”
The Duke of Buckingham said, “my Lord Norfolk, you have said as a traitor should be said unto, but I was never none, but my lords I nothing maligned for that you have done to me, but the eternal God forgive you my death and I do: I shall never sue to the king for life, howbeit he is a gracious prince, and more grace may come from him then I desire. I desire you my lords and all my fellows to pray for me.”
On the day of his execution he was led to the scaffold on Tower hill where he said he had offended the king’s grace through negligence and lack of grace, and desired all noblemen to beware by him, and all men to pray for him, and that he trusted to die the king’s true man.
“Thus mekely with an axe he took his death on whose soul Jesu have mercy. Then the Augustine friars took the body and ahead and buried them.
Sir Thomas More (1535):
Final Words: “The king’s good servant, but God’s first.”
Edward Hall says this about Thomas More (translated as best as possible into modern-day English): “This man was also “coumpted” learned and as you have heard before he was Lord Chancellor of England, and in that time a great persecutor of such as detested the supremacy of the bishop of Rome, which he himself so highly favored that he stood to it till he was brought to the scaffold on the Tower hill where on a block his head was stricken from his shoulders and had no more harm. I cannot tell whether I should call him a foolish wiseman, or a wise foolishman, for undoubtedly he, beside his learning had a great wit, but it was so mingled with taunting and mocking, that it seemed to them that best knew him that he thought nothing to be well spoken except he had ministered some mock in the communication insomuch as at is coming to the Tower, one of the officers demanded his upper garment for his fee, meaning his gown, and he answered, he should have it, and took him his cape, saying it was the uppermost garment that he had. Likewise, even going to his death at the Tower gate, a poor woman called unto him and besought him to declare that he had certain evidences of her in the time that he was in office (which after he was apprehended she could not come by) and that he would intreate she might have them again, or else she was undone. (More owed this woman some money or debt) He answered, “good woman have patience a little while, for the king is so good unto me that even within this half hour he will discharge me of all businesses, and help thee himself.” Also, when he went up the stairs on the scaffold, he desired one of the Sheriff’s officers to give him his hand to help him up, and said, “when I come down again, let me shift for myself as well as I can.”
The executioner then kneeled down before him and asked for forgiveness and More replied, “I forgive thee, but I promise thee that thou shalt never have honesty of the striking of my head, my neck is so short.”
Also even when he should lay down his head on the block, he having a great gray beard, striked out his beard and said to the hangman: “I pray you let me lay my beard over the block least ye should cut it, thus w a mock he ended his life.”
George Boleyn, Lord Rochford (1536):
” I was a great reader and mighty debater of the word of God, and one of those who most favoured the gospel of Jesus Christ. Wherefore, lest the word of God should be brought into reproach on my account, I now tell you all Sirs, that if I had, in very deed, kept his holy word, even as I read and reasoned about it with all the strength of my wit, certain am I that I should not be in the piteous condition wherein I now stand. Truly and diligently did I read the gospel of Christ Jesus, but I turned not to profit that which I did read; the which had I done, of a surety I had not fallen into so great errors. Wherefore I do beseech you all, for the love of our Lord God, that ye do at all seasons, hold by the truth, and speak it, and embrace it; for beyond all peradventure, better profiteth he who readeth not and yet doeth well, than he who readeth much and yet liveth in sin”
William Brereton (1536):
According to The Spanish Chronicle, he simply said, “I have offended God and the King; pray for me”, but other reports have him repeating the phrase “I have deserved to die if it were a thousand deaths. But the cause wherefore I die, judge not. But if ye judge, judge the best.” He was then beheaded.
Anne Boleyn, Queen consort & Marquess of Pembroke (1536):
Good christian people, I am come hither to die, for according to the law and by the law I am judged to die, and therefore I will speak nothing against it. I am come hither to accuse no man, nor speak anything of that whereof I am accused and condemned to die, but I pray God save the king and send him long to reign over you, for gentler nor a more merciful prince was there never: and to me he was ever a good, a gentle, & sovereign lord. And if any person will meddle of my cause, I require them to judge the best. And thus I take my leave of the world and of you all, and I heartily desire you all to pray for me. O lord have mercy on me, to God I commend my soul.
And then she kneeled down saying: to Christ I commend my soul, Jesu receive my soul, many times, till that her head was stricken off with the sword. And on the Ascension Day following, the king wore white for mourning.
Thomas Cromwell, Earl of Essex (1540):
I am come hether to dye, and not to purge my self, as maie happen, some thynke that I will, for if I should do so, I wer a very wretche and miser: I am by the Lawe comdempned to die, and thanke my lorde God that hath appoynted me this deathe, for myne offence: For sithence the tyme that I have had yeres of discrecion, I have lived a synner, and offended my Lorde God, for the whiche I aske hym hartely forgevenes. And it is not unknowne to many of you, that I have been a great traveler in this worlde, and beyng but of a base degree, was called to high estate, and sithes the tyme I came thereunto, I have offended my prince, for the whiche I aske hym hartely forgevenes, and beseche you all to praie to God with me, that he will forgeve me.
O father forgeve me. O sonne forgeve me, O holy Ghost forgeve me: O thre persons in one God forgeve me. And now I praie you that be here, to beare me record, I die in the Catholicke faithe, not doubtyng in any article of my faith, no nor doubtyng in any Sacrament of the Churche. Many hath sclaundered me, and reported that I have been a bearer, of suche as hath mainteigned evill opinions, whiche is untrue, but I confesse that like as God by his holy spirite, doth instruct us in the truthe, so the devill is redy to seduce us, and I have been seduced: but beare me witnes that I dye in the Catholicke faithe of the holy Churche. And I hartely desire you to praie for the Kynges grace, that he maie long live with you, maie long reigne over you. And once again I desire you to pray for me, that so long as life remaigneth in this fleshe, I waver nothyng in my faithe.
Hall then went on to say that, “And then he made he his payer, which was long, but not so long, as both Godly and learned, and after committed his soul, into the hands of God, and so patiently suffered the stroke of the axe, by a ragged butcherly miser, which ver ungoodly performed the office.¹
Katherine Howard, Queen consort (1542):
The well-known Katherine Howard historian, Gareth Russell, has this to say about her final words:
Dressed in a discreet and conservative gown of dark velvet, Catherine made her way up onto the scaffold where she gave a short speech “for her offences against God heinously from her youth in breaking all of His commandments and also against the King’s royal Majesty.” Her final speech was apparently entirely conventional and no-one bothered to record it in its entirety, but it contained the token praise of the King and call for universal obedience to the monarchy. She had never been particularly devout, but Catherine died a Catholic (although not a Roman one) in confirming her belief in the Divinity and Mercy of Jesus Christ and by leaving a request that the crowd pray for her soul in Purgatory. Then, she was blindfolded by Gage and knelt at the block. The executioner did his job well and a single blow from the axe was all it took to end Catherine Howard’s life. There is no truth in the old fable that she proclaimed that although she was dying the wife of a king, she would much rather be dying the wife of a Culpepper.
Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey (1547):
After searching and searching to find some account of the last words spoken by Henry Howard I have come up empty-handed. I will leave you with this letter written to the Holy Roman Emperor to tell him of the events at Henry VIII’s court:
Last Wednesday the earl of Surrey was executed. Four or five days previously he had defended himself at his public trial from nine in the morning until five o’clock in the afternoon. The principal charges against him were that he had usurped the royal arms of England, and had also used certain ancient (sic) pictures representing him, suspected to have been inspired by evil thoughts. It was further urged against him that he had maintained that his father was the most qualified person, both on account of his services and his lineage, to be entrusted with the government of the Prince (Edward) and of this realm; and, that in order to bring this about more easily, he, Surrey, had exhorted his sister the widowed Duchess of Richmond to come to Court and lay herself out to please the King, and so to gain his favour. With regard to the arms, the earl maintained that they were his by right and he was entitled to bear them. As to the picture, which represented a broken pillar against which he was leaning with a young child beneath the pillar, he excused himself by saying that he had done nothing to the prejudice of anyone, nor had he acted maliciously. With regard to the accusation as to his father, he confessed that he had said what was alleged, and set forth his merits and services in comparison with those of those who had been preferred to him. When he came to the point referring to his sister he emphatically denied the truth of the allegation, although he was shown a certain writing in the hand of his said sister in which she made this charge against him; whereupon he exclaimed: “Must I, then, be condemned on the word of a wretched woman”? He did not spare any of the Lords of the King’s Council, who were all present, and he addressed words to them that could not have been pleasant for them to hear. (fn. 5) At length, twelve men were summoned and they condemned him. His father (the Duke of Norfolk) is still in the Tower and very little is said about him.²
Thomas Seymour, Baron Seymour of Sudeley & Lord Admiral (1549):
While I have been unable to find any “final words” from one of my favorite courtiers, there are definitely statements that others made about him after his death. Princess Elizabeth is noted as saying: “This day died a man with much wit and very little judgment.” William Latimer said, “surely he was a wicked man and the realm is well rid of him.”
Here is something many believe Thomas wrote while being “lodged” in the Tower of London:
to love a king
Hath been my rod
Or else nothing:
In this frail life
being a blast
of care and strife
till in be past.
Yet God did call
me in my pride
lest I should fall
and from him slide
for whom loves he
and not correct
that they may be
of his elect
The death haste thee
thou shalt me gain
with him to reign
Who send the king
Like years as noye
His realm in joy
And after this
frail life such grace
As in his bliss
he may have place.
Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset & Lord Protector (1552):
“I desire you all to bear me witness that I die here in the faith of Jesus Christ, desiring you to help me with your prayers. Lord Jesus, save me!”
John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland (1553):
In the evening the Duke learnt “that I must prepare myself against tomorrow to receive my deadly stroke”, as he wrote in a desperate plea to the Earl of Arundel: “O my good lord remember how sweet life is, and how bitter ye contrary.” On the scaffold, before 10,000 people, Dudley confessed his guilt but maintained:
And yet this act wherefore I die, was not altogether of me (as it is thought) but I was procured and induced thereunto by other[s]. I was I say induced thereunto by other[s], howbeit, God forbid that I should name any man unto you, I will name no man unto you, and therefore I beseech you look not for it. … And one thing more good people I have to say unto you … and that is to warn you and exhort you to beware of these seditious preachers, and teachers of new doctrine, which pretend to preach God’s word, but in very deed they preach their own fancies, … they know not today what they would have tomorrow, … they open the book, but they cannot shut it again. … I could good people rehearse much more … but you know I have another thing to do, whereunto I must prepare me, for the time draweth away. … And after he had thus spoken he kneeled down … and bowing toward the block he said, I have deserved a thousand deaths, and thereupon he made a cross upon the straw, and kissed it, and laid his head upon the block, and so died.³
Lady Jane Grey (1554):
Good people, I have come hither to die and by a law I am condemned to the same. The fact, indeed, against the Queen’s Highness was unlawful and the consenting thereto by me. But touching the procurement and desire thereof by me or on my behalf I do wash my hands in innocence. Before God and the face of you, good Christian people, this day I pray you all, to bear me witness that I die a true Christian woman, and that I look to be saved by none other means, but only by the mercy of God, in the merits of the blood of his only son, Jesus Christ. And I confess, when I did know the word of God, I neglected the same, loved myself and the world, and thereto the plague or punishment is happily and worthily happened unto me for my sins. And yet, I thank God of His goodness that he hath thus given me a time and respite to repent. And now good people, while I am alive, I pray you to assist me with your prayers.’
Eventually the executioner informed Lady Jane where to stand. She replied, ‘I pray you dispatch me quickly.’ She began to kneel, then hesitated and said, ‘Will you take it off before I lay me down?’ The executioner answered, ‘No madame.’ Jane then tied the handkerchief around her eyes. Unable to locate the block, she became anxious, ‘Where is it? What shall I do? Where is it?’ she asked, her voice faltering. Those who stood upon the scaffold seemed unsure of what to do. ‘One of the standers by’ climbed the scaffold and helped her to the block. Her last words were, ‘Lord, into thy hands I commend my spirit.’
Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury (1556):
Every man desireth, good people, at the time of their deaths, to give some good exhortation that others may remember after their deaths, and be the better thereby. So I beseech God grant me grace, that I may speak something at this my departing, whereby God may be glorified and you edified.
First, it is a heavy case to see that many folks be so much doted upon the love of this false world, and so careful for it, that for the love of God, or the love of the world to come, they seem to care very little or nothing therefore. This shall be my first exhortation: That you set not overmuch by this false glosing world, but upon God and the world to come. And learn to know what this lesson meaneth, which St John teacheth, that the love of this world is hatred against God.
The second exhortation is, that next unto God, you obey your king and queen, willingly and gladly, without murmur and grudging. And not for fear of them only, but much more for the fear of God: Knowing, that they be God’s ministers, appointed by God to rule and govern you. And therefore whoso resisteth them, resisteth God’s ordinance.
The third exhortation is, that you love all together like brethren and sisters. For alas, pity it is to see, what contention and hatred one Christian man hath to another; not taking each other, as sisters and brothers; but rather as strangers and mortal enemies. But I pray you learn and bear well away this one lesson, To do good to all men as much as in you lieth, and to hurt no man, no more than you would hurt your own natural and loving brother or sister. For this you may be sure of, that whosoever hateth any person, and goeth about maliciously to hinder or hurt him, surely, and without all doubt, God is not with that man, although he think himself never so much in God’s favour.
The fourth exhortation shall be to them that have great substance and riches of this world, that they will well consider and weigh those sayings of the Scripture. One is of our Saviour Christ himself, who saith, It is hard for a rich man to enter into heaven; a sore saying, and yet spoke by him, that knew the truth. The second is of St John, whose saying is this, He that hath the substance of this world, and seeth his brother in necessity, and shutteth up his mercy from him, how can he say, he loveth God? Much more might I speak of every part; but time sufficeth not. I do but put you in remembrance of things. Let all them that be rich, ponder well those sentences; for if ever they had any occasion to shew their charity, they have now at this present, the poor people being so many, and victuals so dear. For though I have been long in prison, yet I have heard of the great penury of the poor. Consider, that that which is given to the poor is given to God; whom we have not otherwise present corporally with us, but in the poor.
And now forsomuch as I am come to the last end of my life, whereupon hangeth all my life passed, and my life to come, either to live with my Saviour Christ in heaven, in joy, or else to be in pain ever with wicked devils in hell; and I see before mine eyes presently either heaven ready to receive me, or hell ready to swallow me up; I shall therefore declare unto you my very faith, how I believe, without colour or dissimulation. For now is no time to dissemble, whatsoever I have written in times past.
First, I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, &c. and every article of the Catholic faith, every word and sentence taught by our Saviour Christ, his Apostles and Prophets, in the Old and New Testament.
And now I come to the great thing that troubleth my conscience more than any other thing that ever I said or did in my life: and that is, the setting abroad of writings contrary to the truth. Which here now I renounce and refuse, as things written with my hand contrary to the truth which I thought in my heart, and writ for fear of death, and to save my life, if it might be: and that is, all such bills, which I have written or signed with mine own hand, since my degradation; wherein I have written many things untrue. And forasmuch as my hand offended in writing contrary to my heart, therefore my hand shall first be punished. For if I may come to the fire, it shall be first burned. And as for the Pope, I refuse him, as Christ’s enemy and antichrist, with all his false doctrine. (via Luminarium)
The fire was then lit and once the flames were high enough he placed his right hand in the flame and in pain yelled, “‘This hand hath offended.‘ – referencing him signing the paper to rescind his Protestant beliefs.
Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots (1587):
Mary approached the straw covered scaffold, turned to her loyal ladies and said “Thou hast cause rather to joy than to mourn, for now shalt thou see Mary Stuart’s troubles receive their long-expected end.” As the Dean of Peterborough prayed aloud in English, Mary read her Catholic Latin prayers louder, and then refusing the help of the executioner, took off her black gown to reveal a scarlet bodice and petticoat. The vivid scarlet of her clothes proclaimed that she was considered herself a martyr to the Catholic faith.
The executioner knelt before the Queen of the Scots, begging her forgiveness, and then Mary knelt, laying her head on the block ready, repeating “In manuas tuas, Domine, confide spiritum meum”, “Into Thy hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit.” The executioner then did the deed
¹Hall’s Chronicle : containing the history of England, during the reign of Henry the Fourth, and the succeeding monarchs, to the end of the reign of Henry the Eighth, in which are particularly described the manners and customs of those periods. Carefully collated with the editions of 1548 and 1550; by Hall, Edward, d. 1547
²’Spain: January 1547, 16-31′, in Calendar of State Papers, Spain, Volume 9, 1547-1549, ed. Martin A S Hume and Royall Tyler (London, 1912), pp. 1-14. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/cal-state-papers/spain/vol9/pp1-14 [accessed 13 July 2017].
³Wikipedia.com – Quote from: Jordan, W. K. and Gleason, M. R. (1975): The Saying of John Late Duke of Northumberland Upon the Scaffold, 1553.