Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Brandon, Richard

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475511Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 06 — Brandon, Richard1886Sidney Lee

BRANDON, RICHARD (d. 1649), executioner of Charles I, was the son of Gregory Brandon, common hangman of London in the early part of the seventeenth century, and the successor of Derrick. Anstis tells the story that Sir William Segar, Garter king of arms, ignorant of the elder Brandon's occupation, was led by Ralph Brooke, York herald, to grant him a coat of arms in December 1616 (Register of the Garter, ii. 399). Both father and son were notorious characters in London, the former being commonly called 'Gregory,' and the latter 'Young Gregory,' on account of the elder Brandon's long tenure of office. From an early age 'Young Gregory' is said to have prepared himself for his calling by decapitating cats and dogs. He succeeded his father shortly before 1640 (Old Newes Newly Revived, 1640). In 1641 he was a prisoner in Newgate on a charge of bigamy, from which he seems to have cleared himself (The Organ's Eccho, 1641). He was the executioner of Strafford (12 May 1641) and of Laud (10 Jan. 1644-5) (cf. Canterbury's Will, 1641). Brandon asserted, after judgment had been passed on Charles I (27 Jan. 1648-9), that he would not carry out the sentence. On 30 Jan., however, he was 'fetched out of bed by a troop of horse,' and decapitated the king. He 'received 30 pounds for his pains, all paid in half-crowns, within an hour after the blow was given,' and obtained an orange 'stuck full of cloves' and a handkerchief out of the king's pocket; he ultimately sold the orange for 10s. in Rosemary Lane, where he lived. He executed the Earl of Holland, the Duke of Hamilton, and Lord Capel in the following March, with the same axe as he had used on the king, suffered much from remorse, died on 20 June 1649, and was buried the next day in Whitechapel churchyard. On 15 Oct. 1660 William Hulett, or Hewlett, was condemned to death for having been Charles's executioner; but three witnesses asserted positively that Brandon was the guilty person, and their statement is corroborated by three tracts, published at the time of Brandon's death—'The Last Will and Testament of Richard Brandon, Esquire, headsman and hangman to the Pretended Parliament,' 1649; 'The Confession of Richard Brandon, the Hangman,' 1649; 'A Dialogue, or a Dispute between the Late Hangman and Death,' 1649. Other persons who have been credited with executing Charles I are the Earl of Stair (Hone, Sixty Curious Narratives, pp. 138-140), Lieutenant-colonel Joyce (Lilly, Life and Times), and Henry Porter (Cal. State Papers, Dom. 29 April 1663; Lords' Journal, xi. 104), but all the evidence points to Brandon as the real culprit. Very many references to Brandon and his father are met with in contemporary dramatic and popular literature.

[Cat. of Satirical Prints in Brit. Mus., Div. I; Ellis's Orig. Letters, 2nd ser. iii. 340-41; Notes and Queries, 1st ser. ii. v. vi., 2nd ser. ix. xi., 3rd ser. vii. s 4th ser. iii., oth ser. v.]

S. L. L.