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Friday, September 24, 2010

Caught on Tape: Off With Their Heads!

Usually when I do an edition of Caught on Tape, it focuses on one person, this time, as part of Off With Their Heads! Week, I thought it would be interesting to see some of the portrayals of royal executions in TV and movies. I have only chosen one scene per character even though there may have been several to pick from – in order to keep this to a reasonable length post (it is going to be lengthy already. I also tried to stick with dramas instead of biopics or historical documentaries.

So let’s start this off with the queens…

When I think of a royal beheading, my mind immediately goes to Anne Boleyn – most likely because the Tudors have been all the hype lately. This clip is from the TV show the Tudors and I thought that Natalie Dormer did a fantastic job! I have to admit, I cried when I watched this episode. The music was beautiful too.

Next up, again from the Tudors is Katherine Howard (played by Tamzin Merchant)– the other wife that Henry VIII had beheaded – and Jane Boleyn, Lady Rochford (played by Joanne King). They were both executed one after the other and instead of breaking them apart, I thought it would be best to do the combined scene. You should note Katherine reaction after Jane is executed. I would have hated to be her; I would have rather went first. This scene doesn’t quite have the same feel as the Anne scene.

Lady Jane Grey was the Nine Day Queen who ruled England after the death of King Edward and before the reign of Queen Mary. This scene is from the 1986 move Lady Jane starring Helena Bonham Carter – I didn’t think this movie was that bad. There is the infamous “where is it?, where is it?” line too.

Now to move a little later in time, to Mary Queen of Scots. The scene I selected was from the BBC serial drama Elizabeth R (1971) – something I am moving up my list to see. In this Queen Mary is played by Vivian Pickles. It is a little bit of a long scene and not as dramatic as the previous few scenes, but it gets the point across. You get to see how bad the executioner was. The aftermath scene with Queen Elizabeth is pretty interesting too.

The final Queen, and the only one that I have from outside England, is Marie Antoinette. You probably know that she lost her head in a very different manner than the rest – by the guillotine during the French Revolution. A very public execution and there were not really any last words. This clip comes from the 2001 movie i– Marie is played by Joely Richardson.

Now that we have finished looking at the royal women, let us take a look at the men, both royal and courtiers.

Thomas Cromwell was one of Henry VIII’s most influential advisors. Cromwell advocated for the removal of Anne Boleyn and later was instrumental in the marriage of Henry to Anne of Cleves – which ultimately led to his downfall. Because of the disaster of this marriage, his enemies took advantage and he was executed on the same day Henry wed Katherine Howard (and we know how that one ended). This clip is from the Tudors and features James Frain as Cromwell.

Another Thomas who lost his head during the reign of Henry VIII was Thomas More. More was the Lord Chancellor to Henry following Thomas Wolsey. More’s downfall was that he disapproved of the King’s marriage to Anne Boleyn. All nobles were required to swear to the Act of Succession (stating that Anne was the legitimate Queen), which More did, but what he could not accept was the oath of supremacy, giving Parliament the right to legislate religious issues, and acknowledging the divorce to Catherine as legitimate. Many urged him to make the oath but he would not. He was charged with treason and sentenced to death. This scene is again taken from the Tudors and More is played by Jeremy Northam.

My final segment is on my only King – Charles I. Charles was the victim of the English Civil War. In the past, the king would be overthrown and murdered – this was basically the first time that a king was given a trial. He was found guilty a high treason for inciting the Civil War and other crimes and was subsequently executed. The scene I chose was from the 1970 movie Cromwell where Charles I was played by Alec Guinness. A very emotional scene.

I hope that these scenes have been interesting to you as we explored these terrible times in history. Many of these people didn’t really do terrible crimes that should have lead to execution – maybe jail, but execution was a little harsh.

Have you seen any of these? What did you think? Any others that you have seen that you thought were better?

Copyright © 2010 by The Maiden’s Court


  1. I've seen all of the Tudor clips but not the others. I keep meaning to get Elizabeth R but just haven't gotten around to it yet. I agree with you that Natalie Dormer did a great job - I bawled my eyes out!

  2. What a fantastic post! I have seen all these executions but the 1971 version and I have to say it was really good and loyal to the actual execution of Mary - as good as an execution gets, that is. I was most touched by Anne Boleyn's and Marie Antoinette's executions, due to the backgrounds of these sad murders (I see them as murders) and because the scenes were so well done. I cried, especially with Natalie Dormer's portrayal of Anne's last moments. I needed some time to recover after the scene when I first saw it and I remember calling Henry a very bad name. Woops....;)

  3. The only ones I have seen are the Tudors and the Lady Jane ones. I thought the Marie Antoinette scene was touching because there really isn't anything said - its just sad.

  4. I remember how I cried in the scene where Anne (Natalie) was beheaded. It was such a well-done scene, and it felt so real. Dormer's Anne is my favourite portrayal of her.

  5. What a depressing post to read/watch before going to bed. Of them all, Lady Jane Grey deserved it the least. She was guilty of being related to power hungry men and being used by them.
    I will never understand the necessity for such a public spectacle in any execution. Even here in the US, public hangings were events attended by families. Who would want to bring a child to something so horrible?
    I agree with you, none were guilty of anything that justified beheading. Political expediency seems to be the main reason for most of them. If they aren't there, you don't have to deal with them.

    A very well done post.

  6. LibraryPat - I agree, Lady Jane really didn't do anything. I also can't figure out why public in general would want to attend these sorts of events - and I would think that a hanging would be even worse to watch.

    Malena - I think it was a very good scene!


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