Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Ride the Lightning - Tudor-Style

On a morning very similar to this morning (in fact, it was this morning) a distress call came from a family member.
Three-year-old incredibly adorable child was too ill for normal day's activities and required a quiet environment for the day.
Driving away with said three-year-old, there came a small voice - nearly a whisper - from the back seat.
"I'm going to barf."
The child proved himself no liar by doing just that, into a bowl provided by his mother.
Ker-splat. Retch. Ker-splat - and repeat.

A few minutes later while I dumped the contents of the barf bowl alongside the road, Elizabeth I's quote, 'Such a one as would give God the vomit,' popped into my head.
And I felt shame.
Shame over my own near-barfing experience just from hearing a little kid boot in a large mixing bowl. 
Shame that I'd never have made it in Tudor society.
The ability to hold one's gorge while facing the unthinkable seems to have been a given amongst Tudor-era citizens from every walk of life.
"And you do the walk of life."

"Guys, guys, guys, I'm trying to sleep here. . . " *

The Tudor version of 'ride the lightning'* came along every now and then to distract the citizenry from their daily woes.
Life rolled along, month after month, wake up - do chores - pray - eat shitty food - pray - do more chores - pray - sleep, day after day.
So hum-drum; other than seeing the colourful vestments on the parish priest at Mass, there were so very few distractions that really rocked a person.
Then -  BAM! - a courtier or religious type or some other miscreant or scumbag got sideways with the current administration monarch and faced climbing a scaffold in their very near future.

Once sentence was passed the poor slob had a very small amount of time in which to pray like their soul depended on it (as it most certainly did) and also to ask their family and friends to pay off their servants and debts. 
After that - well, as the saying goes, 'one more white shirt'll do ya.'
"No need to pick up my other clothes from the dry cleaners, hon."

And the crowds gathered to witness executions.
"This is an AWESOME execution, man!! Even better than the CombiChrist show last month. . . "

Think of it as reality television taken to maximum effect.
When the hype and gossip of whatever crime had been committed hit the ears of the common man, it's hard to blame that common man for feeling that righteous justice was deserved.
After all, the common man had been browbeaten into knowing exactly to whom one tipped one's hat, to whom one bowed (and how deep a bow) and, most important of all, to not question the authority of one's 'betters.' 
Not ever. 
In some cases, fasho, that righteous justice was deserved.
In others - unfortunately, a miscarriage of justice still held the same agony, whether the accused were guilty or not.

Those lucky (!) enough to be close to the scaffold saw the fear on the face of the about-to-meet-his/her-maker's face. 
No doubt they heard the shuffle of footsteps up the ladder or stairs to the scaffold, the quaver in the voice as the prisoner said his scaffold speech; the small, inconsequential little noises made all day every day by humans - clearing the throat, the pop of knee cartilage when the poor sucker knelt for the blow; heard also the ka-CHING of the slicing and the thump when the axe bit the heading block.

When the blood letting got serious, those up close would have smelt that rotten-olives odor of a pool of blood.
So bad. 

So how did the spectators keep from barfing on their boots?
"Dammit, Harry, I warned you about going to those things!"
People who lived in the sixteenth century survived all kinds of horrors that us twenty-first century wimps can't even wrap our brains around; our ancestors were made of sterner stuff.
They'd seen births, deaths, drownings, plague victims (blech) and had probably done their fair share of bandaging up really disgusting wounds.
Death was always around them.
Maybe seeing someone who'd had the good fortune to know it was headed their way was cause for a good dark laugh or three; maybe seeing a person hung (till not-quite dead) drawn (off with your bits! here, let me wave them in front of your face!) and quartered (four quarters make a dollar an entire person) somehow made up for the lousy diet, the lack of toilet paper, and any of the other hits people in Tudor England took every day of their own mostly miserable lives. 

Maybe their gag level was so high that unless a witnessed execution went horribly wrong (more than two whacks to behead the prisoner, a public burning - speaking of bad smells - that it just didn't make that big an impression.

In any case, a Tudor execution makes riding the lightning seem like a pretty quick and fairly painless way to go.

*Metallica song. Yes. It's that good.

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