More’s sentence was commuted to a simple beheading. He was executed five days later, on 6 July 1535. Informed early that morning that he was to die before nine a.m., he dressed in his best clothes but was persuaded to change by Sir Edmund Walsingham, the Lieutenant of the Tower. The clothes would be taken by the headsman as part of his fee. The man was a rogue, according to Walsingham. He would probably spend the money on prostitutes.
More therefore changed into his servant’s cheap grey cloak before setting out for execution. He was carrying a small red cross as he left the Bell Tower for the scaffold on Tower Hill.
‘So was he by master Leiutenaunte brought out of the Tower, from thence led to the place of execution. Where, goinge vppe the scaffold, which was so weake that it was ready to fall, he said merilye to master Lieutenante: “I pray you, master Leiutenaunte, see me saif vppe, for my cominge downe let me shifte for my selfe”.’
In a mask, a scarlet robe and a horn-shaped hat, the executioner knelt to ask More’s forgiveness and received a kiss in return.
‘Which done, he kneled downe, and after his prayers said, turned to the executioner, with a cheerefull countenaunce spake to him: “Pluck vpp thy spirites, man, be not afrayde to do thine office; my necke is very shorte; take heede therefore thow stryke not awrye, for saving of thine honesty.’
HISTORIC LONDON: X MARKS THE SPOT. Question 96. The executioner got it right with the first blow. What happened to More’s head afterwards?
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