Last Beheading Execution in Britain
Beheading as a method of execution in Britain dated back to the Normans . In a society ever conscious of class differences it had become the way chosen for those of ‘high birth’, while the common herd faced hanging, often a slow and agonising death. For those at the very top, like Anne Boleyn , the beheading was effected with a sword; the rest had to make do with an axe.
The last to suffer this punishment in Britain was the Scottish clan chief Lord Simon Fraser Lovat (or Lovatt), probably 80 when he met his maker on Tower Hill . Lovat’s long life was not one of noble deeds and loyal service: in 1702 he sided with the Jacobites ; in 1715 with the Hanoverians; in 1745, most unwisely, he switched back to the Stuart cause again. Add to that dishonourable list his failed attempt to kidnap with an aim to a forced marriage a nine-year-old cousin (he did manage to catch her mother and wed her under threats of violence) and any romantic view of Lovat the martyr becomes hard to maintain.
This alumnus of Aberdeen University was a scholar if not a gentleman to the end, as he awaited the axe quoting Horace: dulci et decorum est pro patria mori. The old scoundrel had one last laugh: a stand erected for spectators of his execution collapsed, killing 20 of them.
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