National Beheading Day, September 2
Why Celebrate Beheadings
Good question to which no one really has an answer. This is truly one of those silly holidays that everyone disavows knowing anything about.
Certainly no government would sanction such a holiday nor would anyone want to celebrate it.
But it does make you think about whose head was severed during the years when beheading was an accepted execution.
When I think of beheadings, which is thankfully not often, I think primarily of kings and queens of England and France.
Certainly there were numerous other countries that condoned this form of execution, but surely England and France are the most famous.
Wife of Henry VIII
It may surprise you to know that Henry VIII, who had six wives, only beheaded two of them, Anne Boleyn and Katherine Howard.
Anne Boleyn was Henry's second wife and the first to lose her head. Although she bore him a daughter, poor Anne miscarried three times and so proved rather useless to the king. Besides, Henry was already courting another woman and Anne was in the way.
It is believed that the charges of high treason, adultery and incest leveled against Anne were trumped up charges designed to rid King Henry of an unwanted wife and thus allow him to marry Jane Seymour whom he was already courting.
So after just two years of marriage to King Henry VIII Anne Boleyn lost her head. Anne was the impetus behind Henry breaking ties with Rome by creating the Church of England in order to divorce his first wife, Catherine of Aragon.
Have I lost you yet? Hope not.
Photo: This photo of Anne Boleyn is in the public domain.
Also Katherine, Katheryn or Kathryn,
Catherine Howard was wife number five for Henry VIII. She came to this position after Henry's third wife Jane Seymour died in childbirth and his divorce from his fourth wife Anne of Cleves after a few months of marriage.
By the time Henry married Catherine he weighed 300 pounds and had an abscess that required daily draining. Not a pretty picture for a young woman in her prime.
So it is not surprising that Catherine had a lover or two. Catherine was not as discrete with her affairs as she should have been and many in her household and elsewhere were privy to her indiscretions.
Catherine was also not exactly honest about her affairs, not wanting to disgrace herself. Had she been forthcoming in the manner that was requested of her, Henry could have sought an annulment.
Poor Catherine insisted that she was raped and so met her death by beheading two years after marrying her king.
Photo: By Lara E. Eakins, Mme Tussaud's Wax Museum
Wife Of Louis XVI, France
By far the most famous beheading is that of the beautiful French Queen, Marie Antoinette.
Married to King Louis XVI, she was the symbol of an extravagant queen.
An Austrian by birth, her mother the Empress Marie Therese sought to build an alliance with France by marrying her daughter to the king.
Unfortunately, for the young and beautiful bride, her husband was not much of a lover.
Eventually, bored with both her husband and court life, she began spending lavish sums of money on clothes and headdresses.
So it was that Marie Antoinette became a lover of pleasure and extravagant masked balls and gave expensive gifts to all her friends.
Rumors of more than just friendship with some of her male friends began circulating.
Mellowing as she aged, Marie and the king eventually had four children, but the French never forgave her for her extravagances.
Life among the French was anything but good and poverty was rampant. Marie tried to help but most of her charity went unnoticed and a rumor circulated that when she was asked about her starving subjects, she said the famous words "Let them eat cake."
The French people wanted reform, more of a say in their government, but Marie was adamant on continuing an absolute monarchy, opposing suggestions of reform.
This led to the storming of the Bastille and the beginning of the end of the Marie Antoinette's reign. Thus began what would be called the "rein of terror" during which time both the king and the queen met their death.
Marie Antoinette was beheaded on October 16, 1793.
Photo: Marie Antoinette by Vigee LeBrun