Treason, adultery and a hanging at Tyburn

This day in London history: the same day, 29 November, 200 years apart, saw the death of two men who were declared to be traitors to their king. Roger Mortimer was executed by hanging at Tyburn on this day in 1330 and Cardinal Wolsey died in London on this day in 1530. He was en route to the Tower of London to be executed for treason but died of ill health on the way.

The Tyburn gallows

Roger Mortimer, along with Humphrey de Bohun, both of whom were appointed as Marcher Lords to guard the English borders against the Welsh, led a revolt against Edward II. It was Edward’s father who had been so successful in besieging the Welsh, but the son, allegedly bisexual, was unable to refuse his favourites even the most outlandish requests.

Hugh Despenser the Younger was one such favourite, leading to the revolt being called the Despenser War. Although the revolt was unsuccessful, ending up with Mortimer being imprisoned in the Tower, he was able to escape and fled to France where he took up with Edward’s wife, Isabella. The pair returned to England, where they had Edward imprisoned, and his son made king.

The lovers, however, were the true power behind the throne; however, in due course, Mortimer was imprisoned by the young king, Isabella’s son, condemned, and hanged at Tyburn as a commoner, stripped of his property and left to hang in full view on the gallows for two days and nights.

In Wolsey’s case, he had been unable to have Henry’s marriage to Catherine of Aragon annulled so that Anne Boleyn; Anne was said to be outraged at this and convinced Henry that Wolsey was deliberately obstructing their marriage, and the Cardinal was stripped of his property.

Wolsey may be as famous for his last words as for all of his diplomatic work: he said, ruefully: “If I had served my God as diligently as I did my king, He would not have given me over in my grey hairs.”

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