Was it customary for an executioner in Elizabethan England to ask for forgiveness from the executed?

Was it customary for an executioner in Elizabethan England to ask for forgiveness from the executed?

The question is basically in the title already. I recently saw what is supposedly a historically correct account of Elizabeth I reign in the form of a documentary. The executioner there asked Maria I Stuart for forgiveness for what he was going to do to her.

Is that historically correct? Did executioners usually ask for forgiveness or only in case of high profile people being executed?


Only the Upper Class was given the honour of execution by beheading - for commoners hanging and burning at the stake were used instead. Consequently beheadings were infrequent, and the executioner often inexperienced. A swift beheading required a calm sure swing, and the custom of having the condemned prisoner both forgive and pay the executioner was undoubtedly for the privilege of such. It was a finicky process to do right, and often wasn't.

In 1541 Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury, required 11 strokes in front of 150 witnesses to die, for many of which she apparently had to be dragged back to the block kicking and screaming. The first blow only nicked her shoulder.


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