Execution Quiz

Test your knowledge about the more gruesome aspects of history. Each quiz has multiple choice answers. (There are cheat sheets at the bottom of this page.)

This test was designed to see how much you know about well-known executions throughout history.

Executioners have to have a good knowledge about death-dealing in order to be successful in their careers. Do you have what it takes to be a Master Headsman?

This test isn't easy, but it will challenge your knowledge on execution history from the ancient past to present-day methods.


Favorites on the Scaffold Cheater Sheet

Question 1: She is often credited for saying "Let them eat cake!", but her last words were "Pardon me, sir" after she stepped on the executioner's foot before being placed on the guillotine.
Queen Marie Antoinette. Although it's more likely that she said "let them eat broiche" if she said anything of the sort at all. The famous phrase may just have been part of a bad publicity campaign to illustrate her indifference towards the poor.

Question 2: Which of the following were not executed on the gallows during the Salem Witch Hunt?
Sarah Osbourne. Contrary to popular belief that spawned from the play and movie "The Crucible", while Sarah Osbourne was convicted, she died in prison before she could be executed. Sarah Goode was hanged as a witch, as were Bridget Bishop and Rebecca Nurse.

Question 3: What happened during the hanging execution of "Black Jack" Ketchum?
His head was torn off from the drop. In the nightmare of botched hangings, the rope was too long and thus cause his head to be torn from the body during the sudden stop. Ironically, his last words were "Let 'er rip!"

Question 4: This is a famous photograph where a camera was snuck in during the execution and this image made headlines the following day. Who is the woman being executed?
Ruth Snyder. Executed on the same day as her lover for murdering her husband, Mrs. Snyder's last photograph was taken by a reporter who had a small camera hidden in his pant leg while witnessing her electrocution.

Question 5: The photo shows a device that was used in public executions where the crowd would have the opportunity to pull the rope that released the blade. What is this device called?
The Halifax Gibbet. An early decapitation device that the later guillotine was modeled after, the Halifax Gibbet was often used to behead thieves in the township of Halifax where a quirk in English law allowed them to execute their own lawbreakers by order of local judicial proceedings. As a bonus, the cord that triggered the device was often extended to the crowd so that everyone could have a hand in doling out justice.

Question 6: What did Sir Thomas More request before his execution in the Tower of London?
That he place his beard over the block so it wouldn’t be cut off. Condemned to die because he didn't agree with Henry VIII's policies, Thomas More was known to be quite witty. By many accounts, his request was to be allowed to lay his beard over the block so it would not be cut by the axe "because it had not committed treason". Another account claims that More told his executioner that "You may have warrant to cut off my head, but you have none to cut my beard."

Question 7: Which of the following famous murderers was not executed in the electric chair?
John Wayne Gacy. Reports are that the infamous "Killer Clown" had a slow and difficult execution by lethal injection.

Question 8: Whose story was made into a film entitled "I Want to Live!"?
Barbara Graham. The 1958 film depicts Graham's crime and execution with Susan Hayward in the starring role.

Question 9: Christine Murphy was that last woman to be burned at the stake in Europe. What crime was she executed for?
Counterfeiting. Also known as Christine Bowman, she was executed for making fake coins on March 18, 1789.

Question 10: Which of the following infamous American criminals was not executed by lethal injection?
Jeffrey Dahmer. Although infamous as a killer and cannibal, Dahmer was not condemned to die at all. He did however find himself being bludgeoned to death by another inmate a few years after his incarceration.

Do You Have What It Takes To Get A Head? Cheater Sheet

Hate to break it to you, but there were no right or wrong answers on this particular test. The test was designed with multiple-choice answers that featured actions of executioners and their assistants in the past. How you scored was determined by how close your answers compared to the actions of executioners of varying popularity.
But here are the guidelines we used:

Question 1: The fastest way to remove a head without causing the condemned too much suffering is…
Most executioners would agree that a decapitation device is the quickest method and least likely to result badly (for the executioner, that is) Although there have been cases of guillotine blades getting stuck during their descent or things obstructing them for a clean slice, those cases are rare. Swords are considered second-swiftest, although more botched executions have occurred with a sword than with a beheading device. Axes are notoriously unbalanced and difficult to use, and it is not uncommon at all for a victim to be horribly mutilated after receiving several blows before decapitation is completed.

Question 2: You have to decapitate a criminal with a sword. Which method of victim placement do you prefer?
9 out of 10 European sword-wielding headmen will tell you that a victim kneeling puts them just at the right height for one successful sword sweep. Often a few preliminary sweeps were aimed just above the head to gain momentum before being brought lower to behead the prisoner. Countries that use a down-stroke sword blow, like China, also prefer their victims to be kneeling with the head extended forward. Victims were sometimes sat in a low-backed chair if it was felt that they would be too shaky to assume the kneeling position. And while standing was used on occasion, it was a terribly awkward angle for the sword sweep...especially if the condemned was taller than the executioner!

Question 3: The condemned woman has just handed you a piece of jewelry. What do you do with it?
Jewelry and money were often given to executioners as "tips", the form of the acronym in its grimmest circumstance - To Insure Proper Service. The idea was that you could bribe the headsman do his job quickly and with as little pain as possible. Sometimes prisoners who could not make prior arrangements would entrust jewelry or other trinkets to the executioner to be delivered to family members later, although only the more compassionate executioners would actually abide by those wishes. Unless the post-execution process was carefully monitored, safe-keeping jewelry was hardly ever returned to the dead.

Question 4: The condemned criminal refuses to lay his head on the block! What do you do?
Successful executioners generally have one or two assistants who can help position the victim correctly while staying out of striking range themselves, although bloody accidents have been known to happen when an assistant's hands get in the way. Some headsmen, as in the case of Margaret Pole's executioner, will carry out their orders in a timely manner no matter what and will physically pursue a victim who runs around the execution chamber. Executioners who choose to wait it out might find themselves waiting an awfully long time... as in the cases where the "last words" on the scaffold lasted for six hours or more.

Question 5: Who is your role model?
Charles-Henri Sanson was the highly acclaimed Paris executioner who was well-educated and even helped design the guillotine that he would use almost daily during the bloodiest period of the French Revolution. John Thrift was also a notable executioner in Europe, but not quite to the same acclaim. Jack Ketch, however, was a notoriously sloppy and unskilled hangman who often mutilated his victims with his frequently botched executions.

Question 6: What height of block do you prefer for beheadings by axe?
24 inches is the standard for most heading blocks, being that it allows the victim to kneel comfortably. A 10-inch block was used to execute Charles I, and it forces the victim to lie prone on the ground. Not using a block of any kind is a very unwise idea, as a block helps reduce springback from the axe blade and prevents the body from shaking quite so much.

Question 7: You’ve been told to “draw and quarter” a criminal. What do you do?
The most common definition of drawing and quartering involves gently hanging the prisoner, pulling out his entrails, and then "quartering" his body so that the head and limbs can be hoisted up on poles for public display. A more brutal definition of "drawing and quartering" does involve tying the limbs to horses or oxen and having them terribly disjointed if not completely torn off as the animals are sent running in different directions. However this method is not as easy as it may sound, and often such an execution too hours to complete. As far as drawing a portrait of the prisoner - while it wasn't an official method of the "drawing and quartering" order, it was the pastime of many jail-keepers and executioner assistants. The most famous being a cell drawing of Charlotte Corday, done by an assistant while she awaited her execution.

Question 8: What sort of head gear do you prefer?
Masks served two main purposes... to instill fear, and to disguise the identity of the executioner from the public. Of course, in many cases executioners were obliged to paint their houses red or do some other token to let the public know that the residents of his home were not suitable for courtship by most people. While the most practical would be to go mask-less, if tradition demanded concealment on a scaffold and a choice was given then a half-mask was more favorable and less likely to impair vision.

Question 9: What is the best way to handle multiple victims on the scaffold?
If they cannot be dispatched all at the same time (as it is possible with the case of hanging or burning), lining them up with their backs to the scaffold was considered to be the most effective and the most compassionate way to handle multiple prisoners. In some places, such as the USA, it is general protocol to pause between executions to get the next prisoner from a nearby holding cell. While it is still common practice not to allow one prisoner see the demise of another during multiple "one customer at a time" executions, there are some particularly vengeful executioners who prefer his victims to witness the deaths of their cohorts on the scaffold while awaiting their turn. It is not unheard of for second-and-third in lines to faint while witnessing the executions prior to their own.

Question 10: You have a woman criminal who has to be beheaded. When do you cut her long hair?
Many times a victim's hair is either cut or tied up in her cell. Since this usually falls to the executioner's assistant, he'll visit with her several hours, or even a day or two before, the execution. However, there are some places where the executioner or his assistant is not granted this pre-date visit and it is done on the scaffold, although many request that it be done beforehand. By not fiddling with long hair at all, the executioner risks hazard, as strong tresses can make chopping through a neck very difficult, and can even prevent a heavy guillotine blade from cutting all the way through.

Question 11: What do you do right after an execution?
Only the most efficient executioners would oversee everything and handle any paperwork before retiring for the day, although nowadays it is much more common. But down through history, executioners would rather leave all the clean-up to their assistants and see (or even squabble about) the spoils they were entitled to. It wasn't uncommon for a headman to be entitled to clothing worn by his victims, which he often sold for a tidy sum as memorabilia. But most old-time executioners were notorious drunks who would occasionally show up to work being anything but sober.

Question 12: You have been instructed to execute someone you know and have a deep respect for. What do you do?
It is not unheard of for a headman to still have loyal and fond feelings for a king he is to execute, but it is also understood that refusing to execute the king could result in being charged with treason and losing your own head! Executioners who found themselves in that awful situation would try to make it as quick and painless as possible, although Charles-Henri Sanson was said to have stalled for time a bit while preparing King Louis in hopes that a counter-revolutionary rescue party would arrive. There have been some cases where a shaky executioner asked to bring death to a friend or relative (or even just a respectable stranger or woman) has vocally protested his role and offered money for a replacement. Often this just enraged the crowd and he ended up doing the job anyway. In more contemporary times, executioners who strongly oppose an execution will often give their resignation before the scheduled event.

History of Execution Cheater Sheet

Question 1: The heading axe on display at the Tower of London in England was reportedly used to decapitate…
Simon, Lord Lovat. The last man to be executed by the axe in England, he was beheaded in 1747. The axe said to have been used for this execution is now available for viewing in the museum of the Tower of London.

Question 2: Who was the first man to be executed by the newly-invented guillotine?
Nicolas-Jacques Pelletier, executed on April 25, 1792. After his execution, the crowd reacted with disapproval of the new machine, complaining that it did its work too swiftly and that the criminal did not suffer nearly as much as they were accustomed to seeing on the gallows.

Question 3: Who was the main executioner in Paris during the French Revolution?
Charles-Henri Sanson. Sanson came into his profession by being the son of the former executioner of Paris, Jean-Baptiste Sanson. His brothers and other relatives were also involved in the trade of legally sanctioned death-dealing.

Question 4: Which of these machines was an early decapitation device?
The Halifax Gibbet. An early decapitation device that the later guillotine was modeled after, the Halifax Gibbet was often used to behead thieves in the township of Halifax where a quirk in English law allowed them to execute their own lawbreakers by order of local judicial proceedings.

Question 5: Which English Queen was beheaded by a sword rather than a heading axe?
As a favor, the doomed queen Anne Boleyn was granted the privilege of being beheaded by a sword instead of the usually gruesome axe. Because none of the English executioners were skilled in decapitation by sword, and expert swordsman was imported from France to perform Anne's execution.

Question 6: Richard Rouse, condemned for serving poisoned food in 1531, was executed in which manner?
He was boiled to death. This unusual method was authorized by King Henry VIII, who specifically had Rouse in mind when it was penned into the books. Rouse was publicly boiled to death in a large cauldron.

Question 7: Which of the following is not a decapitation device?
The Tyburn Tree. The slang phrase "Tyburn Tree" was often used to describe the gallows erected in the city of Tyburn, where many executions by hanging took place.

Question 8: Which of these men was not directly involved in the designing and construction of the guillotine?
Joseph Ignace Guillotin. Contrary to popular belief, the man whom the device was named for did not actually have anything to do with its creation. However, Guillotin was the one who most feverishly promoted it as a replacement for other execution methods, which is why most people associated the device with his name. Most people don't realise that it was the Royal surgeon and the Paris executioner who worked on designing and building the machine. King Louis XVI himself contributed to the device by insisting on the diagonal blade rather than the curved blade on earlier designs.

Question 9: Who is the only person reported to have been pressed to death under law in America?
Giles Corey. Accused of witchcraft during the Salem Witch Trials, Corey stood mute and refused to plead guilty or not guilty. By law, a plea was required to proceed with the trial, but Corey refused - knowing that if convicted of witchcraft his property would be forfeit and would not go to his children. In order to force him to plead, he was bound to the ground and stones set upon him. His only response before perishing was "More weight."

Question 10: Which of the following phrases is not a term for an executioner?
Hempdancer. If the term was ever used at all, it would more accurately describe a hanged man rather than the hangmen. Crapping Cull and Scragboy were both old European terms for an executioner, while Jack Ketch was a famously inept executioner after which all fumbling hangmen were often compared to.

Question 11: Who invented the Brazen Bull?
Perillus, an artist in Sicily, who presented it to the tyrant Phalaris. Legend has it that Perillus himself was executed in his invention, as were Theopistes and Antipas.

Question 12: Which country has executed the most people using the guillotine?
Germany. While the guillotine is most famously connected to the French Revolution, being used so frequently to behead nobels shortly after its invention in that country, the Germans got far greater use out of it during the Holocaust. Most executions by guillotine were conducted outside of public view in Germany, and the Nazis considered it a very quick and effective way of disposing of unwanted citizens.

Question 13: Who was the first person to be executed in the Electric Chair?
William Kemmler. A convicted axe murderer, Kemmler was executed on August 6, 1890 in New York's Auburn Prison.

Question 14: Who was secretly photographed while being electrocuted and the photo made the headlines?
Ruth Snyder. Executed on the same day as her lover for murdering her husband, Mrs. Snyder's last photograph was taken by a reporter who had a small camera hidden in his pant leg while witnessing her electrocution.

Question 15: Which of these is not used for lethal injection?
Diphenhydramine hydrochloride. This is the active ingredient in common anti-itch ointments (which the first thing that Shiva grabbed out of her first aid kit when formulating this test question.)

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