But whan they weren to the place brought
To tellen shortly the conclusioun,
The nolde encense ne sacrifice right noght,
But on hir knees they setten hem adoun
With humble herte and sad devocioun,
And losten bothe hir hevedes in the place.
Hir soules wenten to the Kyng of grace.
From Chaucer's The Second Nun's Tale: Lines 393-399
This passage describes the scene of the execution of Christian followers in pagan Rome in the Second Nun's Tale. It is a gruesome scene of the beheadings of believers during the age of the Roman Empire who massacred many Christian converts they felt threatened their hold on the Empire. Historically beheadings was a popular form of execution during the Middle Ages.
The most famous beheading in English history is the execution of Charles I in 1645. The execution of the King was mandated because of charges brought against him consisting of tyranny, treason, murder, and being a public enemy. The charges were brought against him by the Puritan Revolutionists, led by Oliver Cromwell, who seized power from him. When the two executioners appeared on the scaffold, they were both masked. Rumors circulated regarding the identities of these unknown men. The most popular opinion was that the identities of these men were thought to be Cromwell and Fairfax, the masterminds behind the revolt.(Bailey, Hangmen of England 6)
The King was finally brought to the scaffold. He was allowed to make a speech to the crowd and his executioners. The executioner did not ask for customary forgiveness after Charles' speech. According to rumor the reason behind this was that Charles would not have given it anyway. All of King Charles' luxuries were removed from his body. These luxuries consisted of his cloak, jewelry, insignia, and doublet. Words were exchanged between Charles and his executioner as the lay his head on the chopping block. Then the King gave the signal that he was ready and he was beheaded with one huge crashing blow of the ax. A screeching groan was heard throughout the crowd who watched. Silence followed.(Bailey, Hangmen of England 7)