Guilty of Treason (Part 1: The Execution of Essex)


Tower of London; photo courtesy of World Visits blog.

On February 9, 1601, at 3:00 AM, Essex, Southampton, and their chief supporters were arrested and taken to the Tower.

Indictments were produced on the 17th of February at Westminster Hall “charging Essex with an attempt to usurp the crown, and Essex, Southampton, Rutland and Sandys with having conspired to depose and slay the Queen and to subvert the government” (Akrigg 121).

After a trial before their peers, the Lord High Steward passed the following brutal sentence:

…you both shall be led from hence to the place from whence you came, and there remain during her Majesty’s pleasure; from thence to be drawn upon a hurdle through the midst of the City, and so to the place of execution, there to be hanged by the neck and taken down alive, –your bodies to be opened, and your bowels taken out and burned before your face; your bodies to be quartered, –your heads and quarter to be disposed of at her Majesty’s pleasure, and so God have mercy on your souls. (Jardine, Criminal Trials, I, 363-5)

Two days after his conviction, Essex requested to meet with Sir Robert Cecil and other officials.  According to records, Essex admitted that he and his followers had planned to force their way into the Queen’s presence, “and use her authority to change the government and call a Parliament, condemning their opponents for misgoverning the state” (as per a letter from Cecil to Mountjoy dated February 26, 1601).

Site of the scaffold in front of St. Peter's Chapel at the Tower of London.  Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.

Site of the scaffold in front of St. Peter’s Chapel at the Tower of London. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.

Right up to the day of his death, Essex insisted he “never intended violence of death for the Queen” (Akrigg).

During this meeting, Essex also pleaded that his execution be made private, and his request was granted.

In the early morning hours of February 25, 1601, in the presence of about a hundred gentlemen and nobles,

Robert Devereaux, the 2nd Earl of Essex, was the last person executed by beheading on Tower Green.  His final words were reportedly:

…this my last sin, this great, this bloody, this crying, this infectious sin, whereby so many have for love of me been drawn to offend God, to offend their Sovereign, to offend the world. (Jardine, Criminal Trials, I, 378)

Essex's Execution scene from the 2011 film "Anonymous"

Essex’s Execution scene from the 2011 film Anonymous (Essex played by Sam Reid)


One response

  1. […] of Essex and Southampton in their revolt against Cecil’s factions.  (See my earlier post “Guilty of Treason: Part 1″ for some historical info on this […]

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