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The question is basically in the title already. I recently saw what is supposedly a historically correct account of Elizabeth I reign in the form of a documentary. The executioner there asked Maria I Stuart for forgiveness for what he was going to do to her.

Is that historically correct? Did executioners usually ask for forgiveness or only in case of high profile people being executed?

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Who knew this: Following the execution the severed head was held up by the hair by the executioner, not as many people think to show the crowd the head, but in fact to show the head the crowd and to it's own body! Consciousness remains for at least eight seconds after beheading, until lack of oxygen causes unconsciousness, and eventually death. from elizabethan-era.org.uk/elizabethan-crime-and-punishment.htm –  Pieter Geerkens Dec 15 '13 at 5:25
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up vote 5 down vote accepted

Only the Upper Class was given the honour of execution by beheading - for commoners hanging and burning at the stake were used instead. Consequently beheadings were infrequent, and the executioner often inexperienced. A swift beheading required a calm sure swing, and the custom of having the condemned prisoner both forgive and pay the executioner was undoubtedly for the privilege of such. It was a finicky process to do right, and often wasn't.

In 1541 Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury, required 11 strokes in front of 150 witnesses to die, for many of which she apparently had to be dragged back to the block kicking and screaming. The first blow only nicked her shoulder.

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Ouch ... not much more to say. Thanks! +1 –  0xC0000022L Dec 15 '13 at 6:05
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