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Oddsfish! by Robert Hugh Benson

When my Lord was come up on the scaffold


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There was a great crowd on Tower Hill to see my Lord Stafford's execution; for not only was he well known, although, as I have said, not greatly beloved; but the rumours were got about--and that they were true enough I knew from Mr. Chiffinch--that he had said very strange things about my Lord Shaftesbury, and how he could save his own life if he willed, not by confessing anything of which he himself had been accused, but by relating certain matters in which my Lord Shaftesbury was concerned. However, he did not; yet the tale had gone about that perhaps he would; and that a reprieve might come even upon the scaffold itself.

When I came to Tower Hill on horseback, about nine o'clock, the crowd covered the most of it; but I drove my horse through a little, so that I could have a fair sight both of the scaffold, and of the way, kept clear by soldiers, along which the prisoner must come.

I had not been there above a few minutes, when a company went by, and in the midst the two sheriffs, on horseback, whose business it was to carry through the execution; and they drew up outside the gate, to preserve the liberties of the Tower. While they were waiting, I watched those that were upon the scaffold--two writers to take down all that was said; and the headsman with his axe in a cloth--but this he presently uncovered--and the block which he laid

down upon the black baize put ready for it, and for the prisoner to lie down upon. Then the coffin was put up behind, with but the two letters W.S. as I heard afterwards: and the year 1680.

Then, as a murmur broke out in the crowd, I turned; and there was my Lord coming along, walking with a staff, between his guards, with the sheriffs--of whom Mr. Cornish was one and Mr. Bethell the other--and the rest following after.

When my Lord was come up on the scaffold, the headsman had gone again; but he asked for him and gave him some money at which the man seemed very discontented, whereupon he gave him some more. It is a very curious custom this--but I think it is that the headsman may strike straight, and not make a botch of it.

When my Lord turned again I could see his face very plainly. He wore a peruke, and his hat upon that. He was in a dark suit, plain but rich; and had rings upon his fingers, which I could see as he spoke. He was wonderfully upright for a man of his age; and his face shewed no perturbation at all, though it was more fallen than I had thought.

He read all his speech, very clearly, from a paper he took out of his pocket; but as he delivered copies of it to the Sheriffs and the writers--(and it was put in print, too, on the very same day by two o'clock)--I need not give it here. He declared his innocence most emphatically; calling God to witness; and he thanked God that his death was come on him in such a way that he could prepare himself well for eternity; but he did not thank the King for remitting the penalties of treason, as he might have done. He made no great references, as was expected that he would, to disclosures that he might have made; but only in general terms. He denied most strongly that it was any part of the Catholic Religion to give or receive indulgences for murder or for any other sin; and he ended by committing his soul into the hands of Jesus Christ, by whose merits and passion he hoped to be saved. His voice was thin, but very clear for so old a man; and the crowd listened to him with respect and attention. I think all those Catholic deaths and the speeches that the prisoners make will by and by begin to affect public opinion, and lead men to reflect that those who stand in the immediate presence of God, are not likely, one after another, to go before Him with lies upon their lips.


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