The Hangman’s Oath

Paul Delaroche [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

“A very curious ceremony took place when the hangman was appointed. He was taken into a hall, where the oath of office was administered to him. On the table in the hall lay an axe, well sharpened, the same as that used for the beheading of traitors, – a pair of leg irons, handcuffs and other fetters – a small coil of ropes, and a pair of white caps. The magistrates made him repeat the following oath;

“‘I swear to hand, or behead, and to draw or quarter, or otherwise destroy all felons or enemies to the peace of our Lord the King, and of his subjects duly sentenced according to law, and I will do the like unto father, or mother, sister, or brother, and all kindred whatsoever. So help me God.’

“Thereupon a black veil was thrown upon him at his rising, when he was conducted out of the court amid the groaning of the assembly, the tolling of the dead bell, and the horrifying words of the magistrate grating in his ear, ‘get thee hence wretch.’”

— Alexander Lowson, Tales, Legends, and Traditions of Forfarshire, as quoted in Alex F. Young (1998) The Encyclopaedia of Scottish Executions 1750 to 1963, p. 146.



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