Last time, I told you about Jack Ketch’s abilities as the King’s Executioner. He was useless. Absolutely useless. All that happened to him, though, was that he was promoted.
If you are in management, always give the important jobs to the most useless people. It will make your own performance look so much better. Ketch was the man tasked with executing the Duke of Monmouth:
The Duke of Monmouth knew all about Jack Ketch’s reputation for incompetence. They were all assembled, up on the scaffold and ready to go, when the Duke walked over to Ketch and said:
“Here are six golden guineas for you, Ketch. Do not hack me to bits as you did with Lord Russell. I have heard that you struck him three or four times. My servant will give you even more gold if you do the work well.”
“No problem, your Dukeness” replied Ketch, picking up his axe to begin the ghastly deed.
Monmouth ran his almost royal finger over the edge of Ketch’s axe. He was not a happy man. The axe wasn’t really that sharp. It was certainly not as sharp as the knife he’d had at breakfast. And it didn’t cut his finger at all.
Ketch began his work.
One slash of the axe. It missed. Just a little nick on the neck. Monmouth actually got up from the block and gave Ketch a dirty look.
Second go. Whoops, missed again. Sorreeeeeeeee !
“Don’t worry, Duke. I’ll get you next time.”
“Sorry, I don’t know where I’m going wrong. It was all right yesterday at rehearsal.”
Well, at least four more large swings of the axe. Ketch made a grand total of eight attempts at killing the Duke. And there were even some witnesses who talked of double figures.
And was the Duke dead? Well, no, not quite. Not yet. The neck was still not severed and the Duke was still moving about on the planks of the scaffold.
Ketch flung his axe down. The crowd was not happy. But they knew the rules.
Either the job was finished and the crowd went home happy or they themselves would ensure that at least one person went home dead. And that one person would be either the Duke or it would be Ketch. They really were not that bothered.
Lucky then that Ketch was carrying a penknife in his pocket. “Bear with me”, he shouted to the crowd, “I’ll get him this time.”
And he began sawing the Duke’s head off with his penknife. Eventually, he did it.
Here’s the close up. Look at the knife. Eight inches? Ten? :
The Duke of Monmouth was now, as requested by the King, in two completely separate pieces.
Ketch showed the two pieces to the crowd:
And then some slack jawed local of an assistant piped up with something he should have said to Ketch about an hour before:
“Jack!! Jack !!! Don’t forget the drawing.”
“Well, Jack, they haven’t got an oil painting of the Duke anywhere in England so there’s a man here who needs to draw the Duke before you cut his head off.”
Was Ketch beaten? Hell, no. They sewed the Duke’s head back on to his body (which was not considered a serious breach of the Two Pieces Rule) and the artist then drew a quick sketch. When he had finished, Ketch took out his trusty penknife and cut the Duke’s head off (for a second time, presumably) and the Two Pieces were sent off for burial and/or display.
Now THAT was a bad day.
Incidentally, the oil painting is still in the National Portrait Gallery. They insist on calling it the “Portrait of a Man Sleeping” but they’re wrong, very, very wrong:
Just look at that piece of cloth tucked neatly around his neck. Surely it covers second rate stitching done at speed.
This is not a Man Sleeping.
This is the Duke of Monmouth.
But unfortunately, he has ceased to be! ‘E’s expired and gone to meet ‘is maker! ‘E’s a stiff! Bereft of life, ‘e rests in peace!
No no he’s not dead, he’s, he’s restin’!
NO ‘E’s kicked the bucket, ‘e’s shuffled off ‘is mortal coil, run down the curtain and joined the bleedin’ choir invisible!! THIS IS AN EX-DUKE OF MONMOUTH!!
Jack Ketch died in November 1686. He went on to be mentioned in three different novels by Charles Dickens. He also gave rise to the Rock/Punk/Metal/ super group entitled “Jack Ketch & The Bilge Rat Bastards”.
I could not have written this blog post without the description of events supplied by Lord Macaulay in his “History of England”.