Thursday, June 2, 2011

Maiden of Morton

"Much, much!" answered Michael. "Herod's daughter, who did such execution with her foot and ankle, danced not men's heads off more cleanly than this maiden of Morton. [Footnote: Maiden of Morton—a species of Guillotine which the Regent Morton brought down from Halifax, certainly at a period considerably later than intimated in the tale. He was himself the first who suffered by the engine.] 'Tis an axe, man,--an axe which falls of itself like a sash window, and never gives the headsmen the trouble to wield it."

The ironic text and note above is from Sir Walter Scott’s “The Abbot”.  On June 2, 1581, James Douglas, the 4th Earl Morton, lost his head by way of “Halifax Law”.  The Halifax Gibbet was employed on thieves, as well as such notables as Earl Morton, and its use predated Morton’s death by up to 300 years.

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