History of Beheadings

Different countries have different modes of inflicting capital punishments. Beheading was soilitary punishment among the Romans, known by the name of decollatio. Among them head was laid on a cippus, or block, placed in a pit dug for the purpose ; in the army, .bout  the odium; in the city, without the walls, at a place near the porta decurnana. Preparatory to the stroke, the criminal was tied to a stake, and whipped with rods. In the early ages the blow was given with an axe ; but in after-times with a sword, which was thought the more reputable manner of dying. The execution was but clumsily performed in the first times: but afterwards they grew more expert, and took the head off clean, with one circular
stroke.

In England, beheading is the punishment of nobles; being reputed not to derogate from nobility, as hanging does. In France, during the revolutionary government; the practice of beheading by means of an instrument called a guillotine (so denominated from the name of its inventor) was exceedingly general. It resembles a kind of instrument long since used for the same purpose in Scotland, and called a maiden.

It is universally known, that, at the execution of King Charles the First, a man in a vizor performed the office of executioner. This circumstance has given rise to a variety of conjectures and accounts ; in-some of which, one William Walker is said to be the executioner ; in others, it is supposed to be a Richard Brandon, of whom a long account was published in an.Exeter newspaper of 1784. But William Lilly, in his "History of his Life and Times," has the following remarkable passage. " Many have curiously inquired who it was that cut off his (the king's) head : I have no permission to speak of such things; only thus much I say, he that did it, is as valiant and resolute a man as lives, and one of a competent fortune. When
examined before the parliament of Charles II., he states, " That the next Sunday but one after Charles the First was beheaded, Robert Spavin, secretary to Lieutenant:General Cromwell at that time, invited himself to dine with me, and brought Anthony Pierson and several others alone with him to dinner. That their principal discourse all dinner time was only who it was that beheaded the king. One said it was the common hangman ; another, Hugh Peters ; others also were nominated, but 'none concluded. Robert Spavin, so soon as dinner was done, took me by the hand and carried me to the south window : saith he, These are all mistaken; they have not named the man that did the fact ; it was Lieut. Colonel Joice. I was in the room when he fitted himself for the work ; stood behind him when he did it ; when done, went in with him again. There is no man knows this but my master, (viz. Cromwell;) Commissary Ireton, and myself.'—' Doth not Mr. Rushworth know it?' saith I.—' No, he doth not know it,' saith Sparks. The same thing Spavin hath often related to me when we were alone."

The following description of the Maiden, by Mr. Pennant, may not prove uninteresting:" This machine of death is now destroyed ; but I saw one of the same kind in a room under the Parliament-house in Edinburgh, where it was introduced by the Regent Morton, who took a model of it as he passed through Halifax, and at length suffered by it himself. It is in form of a painter's easel, and about ten feet high ; at four feet from the bottom is the cross bar on which the felon lays his head, which is kept down by another placed above. In the inner edges of the frame are grooves ;  in these is placed a sharp axe, with a vast weight of lead, supported at the very summit with a peg : to that peg is fastened a cord, which the executioner cutting, the axe falls, and does the affair effectually, without suffering the unhappy criminal to undergo a repetition of strokes, as has been the case in the common method. I must add, that if the sufferer is condemned for stealing a horse or cow, the string is tied to the beast, which, on being whipped, pulls out the peg, and becomes the executioner."