Skip to main content
An executioners axe

Famous British Executions

In Bastard Executioner Welsh Knight Wilkin Brattle, takes on the identity of a slain executioner to avenge the murder of his wife, unborn child and fellow knights.

Executions were in fact far from unusual throughout much of British history, and the last British execution was not until 1964.

And some of Britain's most famous historical figures had the unfortunate fate of being executed.

Just take a look at these famous people that were executed in Britain:

Anne Boleyn

Anne Boleyn, Henry VIII's second and perhaps most infamous wife, was beheaded at The Tower of London on May 19, 1536. She was found guilty of incest, adultery and various other charges - including plotting to kill the king. Many historians argue that there was little truth in any of these accusations and that rather Henry wanted to get rid of her as she had not provided him with a son and heir and he had already begun courting his soon to be third wife Jane Seymour.

Anne requested and was granted execution by a French swordsman. She believed it would be a swifter and less painful execution than the traditional English beheading by an axe. Upon receiving the news, she wrote, "I heard say the executioner was very good, and I have a little neck."

Her execution speech included, "Pray God save the king and send him long to reign over you, for a gentler nor a more merciful prince was there never: and to me he was ever a good, a gentle and sovereign lord." and upon being blindfolded repeated several times, "To Jesus Christ I commend my soul; Lord Jesus receive my soul." She died of a single blow by the executioner's sword.

Catherine Howard

First cousin to Anne Boleyn, Henry VIII's fifth wife Catherine Howard received the same fate. Beheaded at the Tower of London on February 13, 1542 - she was aged just between 18 and 19 years old and had only been married to Henry for a little over a year. Accused and found guilty of adultery with one of Henry's favourite courtiers, Thomas Culpepper, she supposedly spent many illicit evenings with him - organised by her scheming lady in waiting Lady Rochford.

Terrified of her looming execution, Catherine requested a beheading block to her prison quarters in the Tower of London the night before her execution. She spent many hours practicing on the block, and on her execution day was so nervous she required assistance while climbing the execution scaffolding. She was beheaded with a single blow by the executioner's axe.

It is historically recorded that she made a speech declaring her execution was "worthy and just" and begged for mercy for her family. However, acording to folklore she claimed "I die a Queen, but I would have rather died the wife of Culpepper."

Thomas More

Yet another victim of Henry VIII's reign, Thomas More was an author (Utopia and The History of King Richard III), lawyer and Councilor to King Henry. He served as Lord High Chancellor of England from 1529 to 1532, but fell out of Henry's favour when he refused to accept him as the new Head of Church of England and didn't attend his new wife Anne Boleyn's coronation ceremony.

Henry attempted to find More guilty of treason multiple times, but at first there was not enough evidence was found against him. It was not until he was tried before a team of judges that included Anne Boleyn's father, brother and uncle, that he was found guilty of high treason.

Thomas was sentenced to be hung, drawn and quartered, but Henry requested him to be beheaded instead. He was beheaded by an axe with a single blow on 6 July 1535. When mounting the scaffolds, More supposedly said, "I pray you, I pray you, Mr Lieutenant, see me safe up and for my coming down, I can shift for myself" and that he would die, "the king's good servant, but God's first."

Lady Jane Grey

The "nine-day queen" Lady Jane Grey was beheaded when she was just 16 or 17 years old. When Henry VIII's heir Edward VI was on his deathbed he was manipulated by Protestant nobles to agree to allow Lady Jane Grey, the great granddaughter of Henry VII to become the Queen of England instead of his half-sister Mary - who was legally set to become queen under the Succession Act.

However her reign as Queen only lasted nine days, as Lady Jane Grey was arrested and imprisoned in the Tower of London along with her husband Lord Guildford Dudley under the future Queen Mary's and her Catholic supporters wishes.

Both her and her husband were sentenced to beheadings. At the scene of Lady Jane Grey's execution she made a speech that included, "Good people, I am 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 when approaching the execution block was unable to find it and said "What shall I do? Where is it?" and was guided to the block by a witness.

Walter Raleigh

One of Elizabeth I's (Queen Mary's half-sister) favourite courtiers, Walter Raleigh was an international adventurer, explorer and writer. During Elizabeth I's reign, Raleigh served three expeditions to America and for the most part was greatly within his Queen's favour.

However, in 1591 Raleigh secretly married one of Elizabeth's ladies-in-waiting Elizabeth "Bess" Throckmorton. Elizabeth had them both arrested and imprisoned in the Tower of London, only to release Raleigh so he could fulfill overseas expeditions.

Raleigh gradually came back in Elizabeth's favour, but after her death in 1603, he was arrested for being a foe of new King James I. Served a death sentence, it was commuted and he was freed in 1616 to lead an expedition to establish a gold mine in the Orinoco River in South America. However, the expedition was a total failure and his death sentence was invoked against him.

He was executed on 29 October 1618 in the Old Palace Yard at the Palace of Westminster. He supposedly said to his executioner, "Let us dispatch, at this hour my ague comes upon me. I would not have my enemies think I quaked from fear," and as the executioner raised his axe shouted, "Strike man, strike!" He was 65 years old.

Guy Fawkes

Guy Fawkes was a chief conspirator in the plot to blow up the British Parliament building, restore Catholicism in England and kill King James I. On November 5, 1605, Sir Thomas Knyvet discovered Fawkes lurking within the cellars of the British Parliament building. Almost two tonnes of gunpowder were also discovered within the cellars. King James I was due to attend Parliament that day.

Arrested and tortured, Guy admitted to his and his fellow conspirators plans. The following months authorities arrested and killed other conspirators and sentenced Guy to be hung, drawn and quartered in London on January 30, 1606.

On this day he climbed the ladder to the noose at the Old Palace Yard at Westminster, only to jump and break his neck. Avoiding being hung, there is speculation over whether he fell by accident (supposedly weakened by the extreme torture he'd endured) or deliberately jumped to avoid the agony of his sentenced fate. His body was still quartered and displayed in the "four corners of the kingdom" to warn off would-be traitors.