Saturday, May 16, 2009

Jack Ketch

Jack Ketch (d. 1686) is the "Kleenex" of hangmen - he was so notorious that his name became generic for the hangmen who followed.* Here are his particulars:
He was appointed as English executioner c. 1663 by Charles II (1630-1685) and was famous for executing notables, but infamous for botching their executions. His bungling of the executions of many of the innocent Roman Catholics condemned after the Popish Plot in 1678 was documented in a broadside. Ketch published his own broadside - an "apologie" - to counter claims that he was drunk or purposely caused needless suffering. He blamed his clumsy beheading of William Russell, Lord Russell (1639–1683), on being distracted while taking aim. An eyewitness reported that after the first ineffectual blow, Russell looked up at him and said, "You dog! Did I give you ten guineas to use me so inhumanly?" When James Scott, 1st Duke of Monmouth (1649-1685) brought this up during his own execution, Ketch was unnerved and it took him 5 strokes of the axe and a slice of a knife to sever his head. The reputations of both the executed and the executioner drew an enormous audience: " goes without saying that a Ketch execution was, by far, the crowd favourite."
*The illustration is in fact one of his successors, whose name was actually John Price. This Jack Ketch is shown being arrested for the murder of a woman - a crime for which he was hanged in 1718.

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