November 3

The revenge of a reigning Queen of England, Elizabeth I, was requited this day in the year 1579 upon William Page, publisher, and John Stubbs. Their crime was to write and print what the good Queen considered to be traitorous propaganda. In August the pair had combined with Hugh Singleton, a printer, in producing a tract, the title of which stated in part, The Discovery of a Gapying Gulf whereunto England is like to be swallowed by another French marriage, if the Lord forbid not the banes, by letting her majestie see the sin & punishment thereof. . . .

Since Elizabeth had no intention of marrying the duc d’Alençon and was merely going through the motions for reasons of state, she was outraged at Stubbs’ attempt to rally public opinion against her. She insisted that the trio pay for their crime by suffering the loss of their right hands. It took some fast footwork on the part of her lawyers to justify this punishment as coming under an old law against the authors and publishers of seditious writings. Of the honest lawyers who spoke out against Elizabeth’s decision, one had to resign his position as a justice and one was sent to the Tower of London to meditate upon his disobedience.

During the trial the printer Singleton, a very poor craftsman, was acquitted and allowed to perpetrate his bad printing upon the kingdom for the remainder of his life. Stubbs and Page were sentenced as the Queen had directed. The spectacle took place at Westminster before a large but quiet and sullen crowd. The public hangman did the job with an ordinary butcher’s cleaver, a beetle, and a red-hot iron. Page said, while his stump was cauterized, “I have left there a true Englishman’s hand.” Following the hangman’s blow Stubbs took off his hat with his left hand. “God Save Queen Elizabeth!” he cried.

Even in an England whose people were accustomed to severe punishments—in an ordinary year it is reported that eight hundred persons were hanged for such crimes as cutting down trees and stealing more than a shilling—public opinion reacted against the barbarity of the sentence to Stubbs and Page. Lord Cecil later awarded Stubbs a government job, with pension, to assuage his own shame at the proceedings.

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