Richard Brandon

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Richard Brandon
Died 20 June 1649
Nationality English
Other names Young Gregory
Occupation Hangman

Richard Brandon (died 20 June 1649) was a 17th-century English hangman who inherited his role from his father Gregory Brandon and was sometimes known as "Young Gregory". Richard Brandon is often named as the executioner of King Charles I.

Biography[edit]

Brandon was the Common Hangman of London in 1649 and he is frequently cited as the man who executed the death warrant of King Charles I by beheading the King on January 30, 1649, although the precise identity of the executioner is unknown. It is known, however, that when originally approached, Brandon refused to do the job, although he might later have accepted under threat.

A pamphlet purporting to be a confession by Brandon was published posthumously, in which it is stated that he received £30 for performing the execution, which was given to him 'all in half crowns'.[1]

The register of St Mary Matfelon, the parish church of Whitechapel, records "1649. June 2. Richard Brandon, a man out of Rosemary Lane." And to this is added the following memorandum: "This R. Brandon is supposed to have cut off the head of Charles I".[2] This Brandon was the son of Gregory Brandon, and claimed the headman's axe by inheritance - he was even known as "Young Gregory". The first person he had beheaded was the Earl of Strafford, on the orders of Charles I.[2] Rosemary Lane is the modern Royal Mint Street.[3]

Gregory Brandon was said to be the illegitimate grandson or great grandson of Charles Brandon, 1st Duke of Suffolk,[4] whose:

treatment of his beautiful royal wife was on a par with his low conception of his moral obligations. He neglected her, spent her money, and lived openly with a notorious woman known as Mrs. Eleanor Brandon, by whom he had an illegitimate son, Charles, who is said to have been the well-known jeweller to Queen Elizabeth, and whose son, or grandson, Gregory Brandon, was, according to tradition, the headsman who executed Charles I.[5]

However an ancestry of Richard Brandon from the Duke of Suffolk's illegitimate son Charles is highly unlikely. Charles Brandon died in 1551, eight years before Elizabeth I. accession to the throne and can therefore not be identical with the Charles Brandon who was this Queen's jeweller.[6]

Notoriety[edit]

The notoriety of Gregory and "Young Gregory" led to "the Gregory Tree" becoming a euphemism for the gallows, and was one of the reasons for the decline in popularity of the name Gregory.[7] The name "Gregory" became a general nickname for executioners:

Even before the days of Jack Ketch it was customary to affix a contemptuous nickname to the holders of the office throughout the country. In the days of James I., and long afterwards, hangmen went by the name of "Gregory," after Gregory Brandon, the London executioner in the reign of that monarch. Brandon succeeded Derrick, with whose name all readers of the "Fortunes of Nigel" will be familiar.

I had better to have lived in beggary
Than to have fallen in the hands of Gregory,

says a ballad of 1617.[8]

The Brandons were also responsible for the epithet "Squire" used by hangmen (including Jack Ketch) as Gregory acquired a coat of arms[9][10] and became an esquire, which passed down to his son and their successors.[8]

The two also appeared in satire and works of fiction at the time, like the print "Portrait of Archbishop Laud and Mr. Henry Burton".[11]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ The Mirror of Literature, Amusement, and Instruction; Vol. 10, Issue 273, September 15, 1827, archived at Project Gutenberg
  2. ^ a b Old and New London: A Narrative of Its History, Its People and Its Places by Walter Thornbury, 1881 accessed 8 Feb 2007
  3. ^ Rosemary Lane (now Royal Mint Street), St. George-in-the-East Church
  4. ^ although the account refers to "the headsman who executed Charles I" which was Richard
  5. ^ Davey, Richard Patrick Boyle & Hume, Martin Andrew Sharp (1909) The Nine Days' Queen, Lady Jane Grey, and Her Times, G. P. Putnam's Sons
  6. ^ H C G Matthew at al.: Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, from the earliest times to the year 2000, Oxford, New York, Oxford University Press, 2004, Entry on Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk
  7. ^ What's in a Name ? Gregory, GENUKI
  8. ^ a b "The Hangman's Office". The Brisbane Courier. January 29, 1884. 
  9. ^ Old and New London: Volume 5 (1878) "The next hangman was the notorious Gregory Brandon, who, as the story goes, by a ruse played upon Garter King-at-Arms, had a grant of arms confirmed to him, and was thereby 'made a gentleman,' which the mob in a joke soon elevated into esquire, 'a title by which he was known for the rest of his life, and which was afterwards transferred to his successors in office.' He had frequently acted as a substitute for Derrick; and had become so popular that the gallows was sometimes called by his Christian name, as may be seen in the following lines:—
    'This trembles under the Black Rod, and he
    Doth fear his fate from the Gregorian tree.'"
  10. ^ Granger, James (1775). "A Biographical History of England, from Egbert the Great to the Revolution". "Sir William Segar was author of 'Honour civil and military,' fol. 1602. He was imprisoned in this reign, for granting "the royal" arms of Aragon, with a canton of Brabant, "to George Brandon [sic], who was the common hangman;" at which the king was highly incensed. But it appearing that he was imposed upon in this affair, he was presently set at liberty" 
  11. ^ "Portrait of Archbishop Laud and Mr. Henry Burton". British Museum. "The London executioner was Gregory Brandon, who was succeeded in office by his son Richard. They were colloquially referred to as 'Gregory' and 'Young Gregorie', which explains the lines at the top: 'Great was surnam'd Gregorie of Rome, Our Little by Gregorie comes short home'. Laud had affected the airs of Pope Gregory the Great; he is about to be shortened by a head by Little Gregory." 

Further reading[edit]

  • Bland, James (2001) The Common Hangman: English and Scottish Hangmen Before the Abolition of Public Executions (ISBN 1874113092)

External links[edit]