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In a Letter to Edward King, Esq. President of the Society of Antiquaries.
The vulgar notion, though it will not appear to be a vulgar error, is, that Thirteen Pence Halfpenny is the fee of the Executioner in the common line of business at Tyburn *, and therefore is called Hangman's Wages. The sum is singular, and certainly there is a reason for its having obtained so odious an appellation, though it may not be very obvious.
* The Executions, on ordinary occasions, were removed from this memorable place, and were performed in the street of the Old Bailey, at the door of Newgate. This was first practised on the 9th of December 1783. See the printed account. Every of these Executions, I was told by Mr. Reed, 1785, is attended with an expence of upwards of nine pounds. Twenty persons were hanged at once in February 1785.
We find that anciently this Office was, in some parts of the Kingdom, annexed to other Posts; for the Porter of the City of Canterbury was the Executioner for the County of Kent, temporibus Hen. II. and Hen. Ill, for which he had an allowance from the Sheriff, who was re-imbursed from the Exchequer, of Twenty Shillings per annum *.
Though this is an Office in great and ge^ neral disesteem, yet the Sheriffs are much obliged to those who will undertake it, as otherwise the unpleasant and painful duty must fall upon themselves. They are the persons to whom the Law looks for its completion, as they give a Receipt to the Gaoler for the Bodies of condemned Criminals whom they are to punish, or cause to be punished, according to their respective Sentences. The business is of such an invidious nature, that,
* Madox's History of the Exchequer, ii. p. 373.
in the Country, Sheriffs have sometimes had much difficulty to procure an Executioner, as, in the eyes of the lower people, it carries with it a Stigma, apart from any shock that it must give to Humanity and Compassion. I remember a very few years ago, if the News-papers said true, the Sheriff of one of the Inland Counties was very near being obliged to perform the unwelcome Office himself. .
So that in fact the Hangman is the Sheriff's immediate Deputy in criminal matters, though there is always, at present, an UnderSheriff for civil purposes. But, before I bring you to the point in question, it will not be amiss to lead you gradually to it, by inquiring into the nature and dignity of the Office in some particulars, and into the Rank of the Officer, for we have all heard of Squire Ketch. These will be found to be supportable matters, as well as the Fee of Office, which is our ground-work.
The Sheriff is, by being so styled in the King's Patent under the Great Seal, an Esquire, which raises him to that Rank, unless he has previously had the Title adventitiously. None were anciently chosen to this Office, but such Gentlemen whose fortunes and stations would warrant it; so, on the other hand, Merchants, and other liberal branches of the lower order, were admitted first into the rank of Gentlemen, by a grant of Arms, on proper qualifications, from the Earl Marshal, and the Kings of Arms, respectively, according: to their Provinces. After a Negotiant has become a Gentleman, Courtesy will Very soon advance that rank, and give the party the title of Esquire; and so it has happened with the worthy Gentleman before' us, for such I shall prove him once with ceremonv to have been created. This remarkable case happened in the year 1616, and was as follows. Ralph Brooke, whose real name was Brokesmouth, at that time York Herald, not content with being mischievous, was the most turbulent and malicious man that ever wore the King's Coat. After various malversations in Office, not to the present purpose, he put a trick upon Sir William Segar, Garter King of Arms, which had very nearly cost both of them their places. The story is touched upon in Mr. Anstis's Register of the Order of the Garter *; but is more fully and satisfactorily related in the Life of Mr. Camden, prefixed to his "Britannia," to this effect* Ralph Brooke employed a person to carry a Coat of Arms ready drawn to Garter, and to pretend it belonged to one Gregory Brandon, a Gentleman who had formerly lived in London, but then residing in Spain, and to desire Garter to set his hand to it. To prevent deliberation, the messenger was instructed to pretend that the vessel, which was to carry this confirmation into Spain, when it had received the Seal of the Office and Garter's Hand, was just ready to sail-f*. This being done, and the Fees paid, Brooke carries it to Thomas Earl of Arundel, then one of the Commissioners for executing the Office of Earl Marshal; and, in order to vilify Garter,