There’s really no good way to be beheaded, but if it’s going to happen you’d want it to be done as quickly and cleanly as possible.
Unfortunately for quite a few people who’ve been sent to the axe they’d have been giving their executioner far less than a five star review for the service provided.
Royalty is supposed to get the fanciest treatment possible, with Henry VIII ordering a top executioner over from France to kill wife number two Anne Boleyn, and might have made sure he got the best talent by booking the job before her trial found her guilty.
It doesn’t always work that smoothly, though, as poor old Mary, Queen of Scots required three chops of the axe to finish the job.
The first blow missed her neck and hit the back of her head, and while the second swing of the axe killed her it took another chop to actually cut off the head.
Any remaining dignity was lost when the executioner lifted up the head by the hair and it turned out Mary had been wearing a wig, so the severed head dropped to the ground and rolled around.
It seems as though the two big rules for these executions are firstly to actually hit the target and secondly to make sure you cut the head off properly.
Those rules were missed by whomever executed Henry VIII’s (he had a lot of people beheaded) loyal advisor and Danny Dyer’s ancestor Thomas Cromwell, as it apparently took several swings of the axe to kill him.
Still, that’s not even the worst beheading ever because in the case of Margaret Pole they must have outsourced her beheading to the work experience kid.
Sentenced to death in the reign of Henry VIII (told you he loved his beheadings) for being a Catholic and facing charges of plotting against the King, her executioner got into double figures worth of axe swings before finally finishing the job.
Margaret didn’t accept that she was guilty of the crimes laid against her and the 67-year-old woman had to be held down on the chopping block.
It took the inexperience executioner a grand total of 11 swings to finally sever her head at the neck, having struck her on the back and the head.
The executioner was called a ‘wretched and blundering youth’ who performed his job in ‘the most pitiful manner’ by the ambassador to the Holy Roman Emperor (think Germany and Austria but very politically confusing).
Then again, while beheading done wrong sounds like a nasty way to go Henry VIII (yes, him again) found an even worse way to execute someone when a cook named Richard Roose was accused of poisoning a bishop.
Roose suffered a particularly horrendous punishment as he was boiled alive, being dunked three times into a giant cauldron of boiling water until he was dead.