Sunday, 8 May 2011

Shorter by a Head - Some Guillotine Trivia!

King Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn from 'The Tudors.'

For Mother’s Day I was lucky enough to be receive The Tudors DVD box set (and I didn’t even hint that hard!) So this morning you would have found me ironing along to Season Two…with tears streaming down my face. Anne Boleyn was executed. Say no more. An extremely moving episode, which is perhaps why, when it came time to write my blog post, my mind turned to thoughts of beheading… and the guillotine.

Where was the guillotine invented?

a)      18th century Revolutionary France
b)      Medieval Halifax in Yorkshire, England.
c)      Medieval Scotland.
'The Maiden' - medieval decapitation in Scotland.

The correct answer (although all options have some merit- read on) is B) – Halifax.

The Halifax Gibbet.

Records show that between 1286 and 1650, at least 53 people were executed in Yorkshire using ‘The Halifax Gibbet.’ This device consisted of two 15 foot upright poles, with a weighted cross beam on which an axe was mounted.
The wealth of medieval Halifax came from textiles. As part of the manufacturing process valuable cloth was left drying on outdoor frames and a suitably fearsome deterrent was needed to change the mind of would-be thieves.
A similar device called ‘The Maiden’ was developed around the same time in medieval Scotland.

Doctor Guillotin - his humane intention backfired badly.

Poor Dc Guillotin.
Synonymous with 18th century Revolutionary France, the guillotine as we recognize it with a diagonal blade was actually designed in 1792 by Dc Antoine Louis. He picked up the initial idea from Dc Guillotin, and modified it. Dc Louis’ device was called ‘Louisette’ but for some reason, despite protests from Dc Guillotin’s family, the name ‘Guillotine’ stuck.
Poor Dc Guillotin! His intention was never to create a machine for mass murder, but to develop a humane way of execution. His aim was to make a “Truly democratic device,” that cleanly beheaded.
Prior to this, if you were condemned to death, your suffering was largely determined by your wealth. The rich could afford a swordsman, to painlessly smite your head from your shoulders, whilst the poor suffered at the hands of an inept axe man or a prolonged death by hanging. Guillotin’s initial design (modified by Louis) meant a guaranteed clean death regardless of rank.

Anne Boleyn (from 'The Tudors') about to be executed.

Historical Urban Myth.
Finally, contrary to popular myth, Dc Guillotin did not die by the device he helped conceive. Instead he died in 1814 due to septicaemia from an infected carbuncle on his shoulder.

On a lighter note, what is your favourite ‘ironing’ programme, and does it make you cry?

The last moments of Anne Boleyn.

[With thanks to makers of 'The Tudors' for the images.]


  1. Thank you, Grace. That was pretty darned informative . . . and a fun read!

  2. What a coincidence! I've never thought of ironing while watching TV (don't do that much ironing LOL) but happened to be walking past a house where the lady was ironing in the front window while watching the hockey game. And here, you're writing about ironing to The Tudors.

  3. Thank you Doug :-)
    Azarimba - I cant believe you've never ironed whilst watching TV. I couldnt bear the tedium of ironing unless I had something else to rest my eyes on....actually, not doing much ironing would be a great alternative...)
    Grace x

  4. I always watch TV when I iron! It's the only way to counteract the boredom. I usually iron when the news is on. Arrghh - double boredom! I've only seen the last series of Henry - sounds like I need the box set too.

  5. Barbara, I can highly recomment it. I only saw Season 4 (on the TV) and really wanted to see how they portrayed Anne Boleyn. I can honestly say I've been rivetted...hubs has become a widow to The Tudors! I've even forgiven the makers for not making Henry grossly fat (not to mention red haired!) - I understand now their way of ageing him!
    Grace x

  6. Completely agree about the ironing while watching TV - couldn't do it any other way! It's always 'Murder she Wrote' if it's on, as it's only 45 minutes and that's long enough. Otherwise, I'll do a long session to one of the Channel 5 films in an afternoon. Some of those are pretty teary if it's a true story.

  7. People's ironing habits are funny! Putting my Sherlock Holmes hat on, I conclude Rosemary irons in the habit I'm usually an evening ironer (specifically as an excuse to watch shows like the Apprentice, whilst ironing)LOL.

  8. Wouldn't you know they would take a perfectly well intended invention and use it for mass murder? I guess nothing has changed since then. On the tip of my tongue is the name of the Russian nuclear scientist whose research they used to build mass weapons. He later became a presidential candidate and then died of a heart attack before the elections.

    I followed the example of a friend and hang clothes in the closet straight from the drier. When we pick our clothes for the day, if they need ironing we throw up the board and iron for a mere 5 minutes and put it away. Or even better in recent years... I got a small spray bottle and just give the clothes a good shot of mist before putting them on. Lazy, I suppose. It beats the days of laundry in years past.

  9. Very envious of your 'magic mist' - sounds like something everyone should have.
    G x


Due to the amount of SPAM I have been forced to moderate comments. If you are a spammer - please go away! You comment will not be posted and you are wasting your own time.