Unfortunately Mary, Queen of Scots needed two to three strikes (depending on whose account you read) before her head was taken off. She was the only surviving legitimate child of King James V of Scots, but was later sentenced to death after a trial was held to prove her guilt in committing treason.
Before losing her head, she was blindfolded. She knelt down on a cushion positioned in front of the block. She placed her head on the block and then stretched her arms out behind her.
The first blow missed her neck and struck the back of her head. Her servants stated that they thought they heard the Queen whisper, ‘Sweet Jesus.’ It was the second blow that severed her neck, except for a small bit of sinew that the executioner severed by using the axe like a saw. When the executioner held her head in the air, he exclaimed, “God save the Queen.” She was 44 years old when she died.
Robert Devereux, who was the 2nd Earl of Essex, also needed three strikes before he was beheaded. He was an English nobleman that was a favorite of Elizabeth I. He was described as being quite ambitious in the political arena and was a dedicated general. However, he was placed on house arrest after he was a failure in the campaign in Ireland during the Nine Years’ War in 1599. In 1601, he led a coup d’ÃƒÂ©tat against the government and was eventually beheaded for treason. Devereux was beheaded on Tower Green, becoming the last person beheaded in the infamous Tower of London.
The worst case of suffering at the hands of a headsman was Margaret Pole , 18th Countess of Salisbury. To the very end of her life, Margaret claimed she was innocent of treason charges. A poem was later found carved into the wall of her cell. Her last thoughts read:
“For traitors on the block should die;
I am no traitor, no, not I!
My faithfulness stands fast and so,
Towards the block I shall not go!
Nor make one step, as you shall see;
Christ in Thy Mercy, save Thou me”
When Margaret was taken from her cell to where the low wooden block had been prepared for her death at the Tower of London, she would not be seen by the public. People of noble birth were not executed in front of a crowd in the open. About 150 witnesses were present for her death. When dragged to the block, the witnesses saw a frail, sickly woman that refused to lay her head on the block. However, she had to be forced down into place. She continued to struggle throughout the process and because the executioner was not experienced, the first blow gashed into her shoulder rather than her neck. It is said that nine to ten additional blows were needed before Margaret was fully executed. She was 67 years old when she died.