Weapons and questions about why Queen Elizabeth had Mary Queen of Scots executed.

[I was in charge of London's defense works which is why I know so much about Medieval English weapons.]

The Bill

billIn the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica they fall just short of asking the question 'what was the Bill used for?' when they explain everything else about it such as descriptions of several bills and how many were used in the various battles on each side. People just don't seem to know what it was used for and how it was used. 

The bill had a 6-8 foot pole. Bills had a big hook on them for tripping the front legs of horses and pulling men, armored or not, off of them. That hook won't slip over the horses hooves. They were often issued to pikemen as a second weapon which they would leave besides them on the ground ready for use against the odd knight. The hook was also used by the second line of men against enemy infantrymen. They would reach between the legs of their own first line troops to pull the enemies first line troops off their feet.

Then they used that 'spear point' to pry open the armor and stab the person or directly penetrate light armor as it's also a lance. The knob looking thing on the top looks like it may have had a several inch long needle in it which could penetrate the toughest armor. Alternately the Bill was used to hook the throat of the knights horse and that way if the man quickly pulled the horse backwards and sideways it would cause the horse to fall down on top of the knight which trapped him. This was important if you wanted to keep the knight alive and well to ransom him to back to his family, which was the custom.

See the Agincourt page for the exception to the selling back of prisoners.
What you read is really what happened.

Now that you know all about the bill you can go impress your friends. You can probably see them in some old paintings. Let me know if you find one. I think the bill was invented by Switzerland.


Why was Mary executed?

HalbardQueen Elizabeth did it mainly because Mary would not command her followers to cease attacks/rebellions (such as the Earl's Rebellion) which claimed many lives. The last life that was lost during those rebellions was Mary's and that put a stop to the rebellions.

One rebellion which was covered up took place in London itself. Nearly 700 were laid out dead in front of Queen Elizabeth 'on the green' by about 75 tower warders in about 10 minutes time using halberds. The queen's regular guard had been sent off chasing after some assassins and the warders were the second string. Spies had warned the guards at the castle so they sent the warders.

The rebels had to hide their arms to keep them secret and that meant they had mostly knives, several shields and about 10 swords which gave those 10 a reach of about 5 and 1/2 feet. The halberds of the Tower warders had one added section which provided an 18 foot long handle, with about a 20 foot reach. You do the math.

That is why only one warder was killed and only two were wounded.

Mary would have been killed long before the rebels had gotten anywhere near setting her free and she knew that. So did the rebels, that is why they did not try to free her and that is why they attacked Queen Elizabeth with assassination being their intent. 

Nothing was written about this rebellion in order to avoid inspiring others to do the same. However mentions of it have snuck into publications, now and again.

Mary knew all along that the rebels were poorly equipped and too small a force to win. Though they were doomed from the start Mary was bored and thought the fun and excitement it supplied was worth it. She had grown a little mad but not nearly so mad as to think they could have won. Others in her family had been unkind and even mean but never so totally heartless as she was.

I apologize for my emotionality but I had several friends from near Manchester who were killed while doing Mary's bidding.

I understand that history says that Queen Elizabeth did not make the decision to have Mary executed:

Lord Burghley was keener than Elizabeth on taking robust action with Scotland, and on having allegedly dispatched Mary Queen of Scots' death warrant without Elizabeth's express command, was excluded from court for some time. Many believe, however, that Elizabeth simply couldn't handle her own complicity in the death of another monarch. PBS

So what gives? Queen Elizabeth was terrified of the Scots for the simple reason that they were as gullible as hell. They would get told one person was the cause of all their problems (or the solution to all their problems) and they would all go off the deep end to assault that one person (or exalt them). As far as I knew it would only happen if they only got one person in their sights. If two or more people were thought to be the problem (or the solution) they were totally helpless. That is the history of the Scots (400 years ago). At least once every year they would get a priest that they would proclaim as being the savior of the world and it all rested with that one person. Actually it was about every 2 years they came up with one of them. It made life interesting. Did any of them make it into the history books besides William Wallace (Braveheart), the Pope and Mary of Scotland?

By making it appear that the responsibility for the beheading was only partly Queen Elizabeth's fault it completely defocused and defused the anger of the Scots.

Mary did not tell the rebels to stop and that is why Queen Elizabeth said 'yes' when Lord Burghley suggested removing Mary's head.



The Halbert

The halberds of the Yeoman Warders when used properly were the smoothest deadly dance I ever saw. The warders would swing them around and around in a huge circle. The broad light blades of the flat thin Yeoman Warder English halberd was much different and had a lot more area than 'war' halberds. They were able to provide lift like a helicopter blade which kept them in the air while spinning them around in a big circle.

Black Watch GuardThe halberd on the right is from Queen Mary's Black Watch Guard- It's not a copy. The halberds of the Tower warders had a larger but different shape blade in the back so it would balance out the lift provided by the front blade.

Otherwise they are very similar. You can easily see how the slightly turned top blade (lance) would add lift while being spun around by the warder (just like when you were a child and you put your hand out the car window). The top blade would provide all the lift that was needed and the ax blade would remain in a totally flat trajectory so it would not be deflected when it hit someone. It would slice right through a neck, behead a person, stay airborne, make another circle and two seconds later cut off another head until there was no one standing except the man holding the halberd.

Often several warders would overlap each others spinning blades and would alternate swinging them over each others head like the blades in an egg beater. In the massacre of the 700 they did just that and each one also had about 4 warders on one knee beneath his spinning halberd who used their halberds as spears.

One dispersal that I saw was a riot of 120 being chased down a 70 foot wide street by two warders with one halberd each on a 10 foot shaft whose slowly rotating blades made two overlapping 25 foot circles that came within inches of the buildings on each side of the road. They had what was identical to a leather dog leash which had the loop over their one wrist and when they targeted someone they would let go of the handle and the spinning halberd would extend another few feet for a half a second and then they would snap on the leash and pull back the halberd, then grab the shaft. There would be another person on the ground and the halberd would still be spinning in a 25 foot circle. It took a lot of strength to do that so they were given lots of beef to build muscles. So earning their beefeater nickname

To my knowledge they were not called beefeaters at the time but they got all the beef they wanted. Queen Elizabeth's court would come to a halt if they ran out of beef before they got another supply. Then we actually had to go find a cow for them. I always knew where to find one within 5 miles of the tower and for a good price. They needed the extra strength that it gave them to twirl those halberds around in 25' circles.

Growing up among horsesThe royal stables where I grew up was nearly in the shadow of the Tower of London (at times it actually was). I think I have it marked right on this map. The tower is at the bottom left with the moat around it.

The warders came to the field near the stables to practice. In good weather every day they would be out in the field, up to 4 at a time, spinning halberds in beautiful overlapping patterns making an amazing choreographed dance with the long handle halberds.  They would use walnuts on a pole as targets to practice on for cutting off a mans head. Each walnut being approximately the size of a man's vertebrae. Usually they would hit 10 out 10 walnuts at about 10 feet (using a short handled halberd).
As a little girl I thought it was some kind of amazing dance with long sticks. It looked very much like batons that cheerleaders twirl combined with synchronized swimming.

Note: I think they had three styles of halberds. The design I am describing was the long range halberds that needed the space to practice in which our field provided. These were more like 'sniper rifles'. They were not what they normally stood guard with. They practiced using the close range halberds at the tower and not in the big field but I never saw them practicing with them. Those were the equivalent of a handgun. The halberd was also used against armor and it was essentially a over sized can opener for opening up knight's armor and usually it had the addition of a hook for pulling them off their horses.  These served the same purpose as today's anti tank missiles.

They had about five sub types of anti-armor halberds.

Some were for Spanish knights. The lower half of Spanish amour was loose fitting but it fit together tightly when in the saddle. It formed a kind of basket which supported the knight during long rides. It was made of a tough steel so you had to go under it like at the armpits or else knock them off the horse first and then go in between the lower sections. Another halbert was for French foot soldiers. Their armor had the metal bound with leather so you had to cut the leather first to get between the metal pieces. German armor was to tight to get in between so you had to make lots of small holes with a thin needle point on a special halberd. What was finally used on German armor was a type of heavy pollaxe with a 5 feet handle and a sharp 8 pound head. This was used to chop off one of their feet, disjoint a leg or just crumble their armor at the knee backwards. [Note: I may have mixed up the countries in the last 400+ years.]

halberdsThis Swiss collection of halberds (left) is so varied because they were surrounded by all the above countries. They needed the largest number of halberd styles. Each blade of these 'can openers' were for defeating the armor of a certain country. Since the Swiss might end up fighting eight countries they had halberds that had up to 5 different blades such as those toward the right.

Hence you will often see the same or very similar style halberds being used by all the countries in an area except for one. That missing halberd is the one that is needed to defeat that country's armor.

Death of EssexYou can see about a dozen kinds of the best halberds and one lance that the warders had for a little party called the execution of the Earl of Essex in the picture to the right. It looks like they may have been expecting some party crashers from Ireland and Scotland costumed in both heavy and light armor.

BillHowever, it's obvious they were not expecting the crashers to ride in on horses or they would have brought several bills (left) to the little Earl of Essex affair.

The halberd at the bottom right (of the picture right) shows that the queen was possibly there with her personal guards (compare it with the halberd above of the black watch guard). I was there and I can tell you this: it was a messy beheading. The axeman actually aims to chop between the vertebrae and usually is 100%. The first swing however hit the Earl's shoulder as well and that took most of the blow but it did sever the spine. The second missed him completely and finally the third hit the neck square on.

How did the axeman suddenly become inaccurate? It started a week before the execution.

It was a very interesting look that Queen Elizabeth gave me when I suggested that she get the Earl's own wood chopper/gardener/forester to chop his head off. The wood cutter had been involved, I think, in turning in the Earl and he did it in part for violating his own two daughters, one at the age of 8
. When the Earl convicted himself with his own braggart's words the wood choppers testimony was not needed but he was still in town. I told Elizabeth he would probably pay her to chop off the Earl's head. She was taken aback by the novel idea of someone actually paying her money since she was the one that did the paying.

(Maybe the queen did take my advice. Maybe that was the wood chopper and he made the execution into a slow torture for his own pleasure. Severing the spine prevents a person from breathing so they suffocate to death. Then he only partly cut an artery and the blood squirted sideways far out in the audience. That is why I said it was messy. Does anyone know who the executioner was?)

Also, there were reports of other executions where an enemy of the condemned bribed the regular executioner to 'take his time'. I explain it here.

My personal experience with a Halberd

Once when I was almost 9 years old the bells at the tower all rang at once. This was the equivalent of a 911 (999) call in the 16th century. It had always been because of a fire at the tower so my sister and I went to watch them put it out.

It was only two blocks to the Thames then a right turn to the main gate.
There were people running back and forth like they did when there were fires but this time it was different. It's hard to explain in detail so let me show you this diagram and let your imagination fill in the rest.

Tower EntranceFollow the red line to see how we walked to the tower. I'm in the lavender colored dress (I got a doll of Catherine of Aragon to play me), My sister is in the red and gray dress and she is older (that's Jane Seymore's doll playing her). The tower warders were always so nice to us so I got a teddy bear warder to play him.

Follow the blue line and that was the escape route of the two 'kidnappers for ransom' who dropped from the wall and then ran to close to the warder. I got a doll of Shakespeare and his twin to play the two criminals. (He got credit for my plays which was a bit of a crime so he deserves being a criminal. 
All models were taken without even attempting to get authorization from the Royal Palace shop which I am very grateful for the use of.)  Click for a large version of the escape and 16th century picture of the tower.

This was the first time I ever saw a halberd used as it was intended and it was on those men who were actually escaping from the tower, see the blue line. I was later told by one warder that, 'they were thieves so young lady you should never steal'.
It horrified me beyond belief when those two men ran about 12 feet in front of the warder who was on guard at that station. Suddenly both prisoners fell down with two swipes of his halberd. Their bodies were so chopped up that were dead within about five seconds.

The warder did not even move from where he was standing guard. He just put one foot out and leaned forward in one long reach with his halberd on it's 8 foot staff. Those men had thought they were completely safe being 12 feet away. He took them out and still had 3 more feet of reach left.  He had done it all without ever moving his other foot. Then he stood right back up quickly, wiped the blood off his halberd and then went right back to standing at attention like a statue. I guess he stood up stiff in case any other escapees came along they would think little of him and get caught in the same trap.

Two seconds is all it took for the warder. The two men bled profusely but one of them had parts of his body spread out half the way to the river. For about 10 seconds I was in total disbelief of what had happened. It's still confusing and it may be that it was just one man who was cut into many pieces.

However, what I thought I saw was the warder chop two innocent people to death just like we would swat two flies but even faster. Where are they buried? As I recall.

I screamed hysterically for 20 minutes. My cousin forgot right away what had just happened right in front of us. She completely blocked it from her mind for the rest of her life and I was envious of someone for the first time.

Until then I had not even thought of halberds as weapons. I just thought the warders were playing a sort of game with long shiny sticks. 

Hey, they gave us gifts and meat for our meals so with their gray beards I thought of them like you did Santa Claus when you were really young.

Then one day in a split second all the Saint Nicks in England plunged my Utopian world into a pre Gothic 16th century version of...

HalbardYou might notice that most of the men in the bards plays often have a deadly quality that belies their actual outward projection of harmonious masculinity. That deadlyness occasionally manifests with fatal consequences. In other words, all the men in those plays either suddenly change into Freddy Krugers or at least you know they very easily could.

This is where all those men in those plays came from. They are clones of the warders of the Tower of London.

I have to admit as you must too, without those men the plays would be about as boring as the 'Biblical passion plays' of that era.

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