Jack Ketch

Death, Satan or the Executioner?

The name Jack Ketch has been synonymous with death and execution since the mid-1600s when the real Jack Ketch was hired as an executioner by King Charles II.  You would think, from his name being tied to executions, that he was very good at his job, actually, the inverse is true.

Jack Ketch successfully executed two traitors to the crown but he did the job so badly that he became feared by those who were to be executed.  At this time in history, beheading, in public, was the preferred version of execution.  The victim, the condemned, would go up on the block, their neck would be bared, they would lay their neck across the block and then the executioner would bring the axe down upon their neck.  Crowds gathered to see the executions and though I would not describe the people as necessarily blood thirsty, this was spectacle that most of the commoners could not resist.  If the executioner did their job correctly, it was a one hit job and ended the suffering of the condemned very quickly.

Lord Russell was Ketch’s first victim.  It is said that the job was done so poorly that he had to strike the traitor at least 4 times.  The first two were not lethal at all and only injured Russell.  His second attempt at an execution was James Scott, Duke of Monmouth.  When Scott took to the block, he is said to have given Ketch money to do his job “well.” He said:  “Do not hack me up as you did my Lord Russell.”  Ketch, true to form, hit him once and the Duke got up from the block as if to redress his executioner.  He sank back down and Ketch had to deliver several more blows to kill Scott.  In the end he had to use a knife to sever his head.

Due to his bad performance as executioner and the pain these high ranking prisoners, criminals begin to dread seeing Jack Ketch coming to do them in.  Jack Ketch made it into common parlance among thieves and pirates who dreaded Jack Ketch and his rope.  They apparently took his ax away.   Jack Ketch’s knot became another term for the hangman’s noose.  The Punch and Judy stories contained a reference to Jack Ketch as did David Copperfield by Charles Dickens.

So, if you are looking to spice up your dialect or your piratey speech, you may want to throw Jack Ketch in there.  Make sure to show him the respect he deserves as potentially the worst executioner in history.