Posted: 11/21/2006


  I was having a pint of Dry Blackthorn Cider at the 13th Century Ye Olde Three Tuns, the  oldest pub in Thirsk, in North Yorkshire. I was admiring lots of old prints, brasses and ancient black beams. Over the fireplace was a print of Dick Turpin, highwayman. Speaking to the landlord, Wilson Gowdy, I started asking questions. Evidently the famous highwayman was in the pub, on the old coach road from York to Darlington and was using an assumed name, John Palmer. That was back in 1739 . However he killed the landlord's rooster in the coach yard and was arrested. He was taken to prison in York and it was then that he was eventually recognised. The reason was that he had sent his brother a letter to London asking for help. In those days the postage of 6 pence was payable by the recipient. His brother wouldn't pay and it was returned to the Post Office where his former schoolmaster recognised the writing.

  He was sentenced to death and hung at York Racecourse. He was convicted of horse rustling, although he had become infamous as a highwayman on his legendary horse, Black Bess. In earlier life in Essex, east of London, he had been in a gang that raided farmhouses and tortured the women into giving up their money and jewelry.  The London Evening News wrote about the robberies and a few members of the gang were captured but Turpin escaped to the North Of England on Black Bess. He purchased new clothes and hired 5 official mourners to accompany him on his last journey. While the hangman messed around he jumped into space. Nevertheless he was drawn and quartered and some pieces are buried in St. Georges Church in the city. His death was recorded as 'suicide'.

  Another Englishman to suffer the same fate was Oliver Cromwell, 'The Protector' of England. There had been a serious disagreement and a Civil War between King Charles I and the aristocracy. The King was beheaded and then there was 11 years of rule by Cromwell. The country got fed up with Cromwell and King Charles II took over. The new period was called 'The Restoration', starting in 1660. For six days a dozen men were tried and convicted of 'regicide' of Charles I and were hung, drawn and quartered. Cromwell had died and was dug up and hung and the rest of the penalty carried out posthumously.

  The penalty was first used against William Maurice for piracy in 1241 and last used against Scotsman David Tyrie at Portsmouth in 1782.  The 'Drawn' refers to being dragged on a wooden fence to the place of execution. They were 'hanged', but straight away they were disembowelled and their innards and genitalia were removed and burned in front of them. Then they were 'quartered'. The four parts plus the head were sent to be displayed in different towns. Well known Samuel Pepys, famous for keeping a diary, made this comment on 13th October 1660. " I went to see Major General Harrison hung, drawn and quartered. He looked as cheerful as any man could in this condition."

  Guy, or Guido Fawkes was born in Stonegate in York in 1570 (you can see a plaque there) and went to St. Peters School.  He converted to catholicism and went to Spain to fight against the Dutch Protestants where he changed his name to Guido.  Eventually he joined a plot to blow up Parliament, at the ceremonial State Opening when the protestant King James I and both Houses, Lords and Commons would be there in 1605.  He and his accomplices were caught in the act in the cellars, and evidently the gunpowder was damp and wouldn't have done the job. However he was hung, drawn and quartered at Tyburn Hill in front of a large crowd.  When I was a young lad we used to make a dummy or 'guy' made out of old rags, dressed it in old clothes and a black broad brimmed hat. We sat it in a wheel barrow and stood on street corners after school and at weekends with a sign tied round its neck saying 'Penny for the Guy.". With the money we would buy fireworks to set off on November 5th, the anniversary of the plot, an evening when local communities would build a bonfire, put the 'guy' on top of it and put potatos in the fire to bake them, eat 'parkin', treacle toffee and other delicacies.

  In 2001 a competition sponsored by the B.B.C. named the most popular 100 Britons. It included Guy Fawkes as well as John Lennon, David Beckham, Winston Churchill and Johnny Rotten. William Shakespeare wrote Macbeth the year after the Guy Fawkes execution as an act of loyalty to the king, and Fawkes was portrayed as the phoenix in Harry Potter novels.