Monday, 8 February 2010

Lifting The Hood Off The Executioner

In order to unravel the myth of the post of executioner, one must first delve into the history of the hangman. Thousands crowded to watch the morbid spectacle of public hangings and beheadings, with all of their early clumsiness and countless botched executions. With head and limbs sometimes hacked from the body, the crowds just yelled for more, and to see a dissected body soon after termination was considered the climax of the day's gory festivities.
The hangmen were not from classes of nobility, they came from all lifestyles. I have even noted on this very site that one executioner volunteered for the job on condition that his sentence of deportation was halved. A good many hangmen were actually assaulted and many of them were no better than the criminals they had come to execute. Quite a few hangmen ended his days on the gallows himself! They were classed as the lowest of the low, but at the end of the day they were simply an extension of the court and if nobody condemns the 'Hanging Judge' then who are we to despise the 'tool' who carries out the sentence of the court.
Indeed many early hangmen tried to hide their identities and yet in later years they were open and displayed their trade with buisness cards. For many centuries they were shunned, and hangmen were targeted by Punch & Judy shows. In market places, Mr Punch would murder his wife and then outwit the hangman to the delight of the audience.
And we use many terms of execution in everyday phrases. Take 'toe the line' for example. This originated from the condemned having to cooperate with his executioner by standing on a line while the hangman left the platform to make final adjustments before sending the miserable soul into eternity. Even the notion that ladders are unlucky stems from the days of executions, when the condemned were made to climb a ladder to the scaffold.
'To shoot the bolt' originates from the hangman pushing the lever to open the trap.

1 comment:

  1. Why is this not in schools history lessons I would have behaved and not been a pain.Carmarthen history is shocking but so interesting ,I do think if I was around then the hangman would the last man to touch me because I let near as every animal in the slaughter house go Free THAY ran every were and me behind them being chased by this small person in leggings ,people did less and hanged from a rope,