Recently it has come to my attention that Salisbury Museum holds a carved wooden box which, according to local legend, was fashioned out of the original headman’s block on which Henry Stafford was executed on November 2, 1483. The carving of the box into its present shape took place in Victorian times.
Why anyone would think that a headman’s block would convert to a nice ornament I am not certain–but hey, the Victorians are known for their love of the Gothic and ghoulish.
Of course, chances are that the box is just part of the local legend and not The Block at all. It was supposedly found in the courtyard of the old Blue Boar inn, near a headless skeleton, sometime in the early 19th c. . Now the chances of the skeleton being Harry Stafford is rather remote, despite the story that he was imprisoned in the Blue Boar before his execution for treason. He may well have spent a miserable night there before being taken to the scaffold the next morning, but the most trustworthy accounts say the execution took place in the Market Place, not in the inn’s courtyard. The Market Place would attract the crowds and as the west was brimming with Buckingham’s rebels, Richard would be keen to show them a traitor’s fate. And, as was usual, people needed to see that this great rebel was truly dead, otherwise rebellion could still be fomented in his name.
A fragmentary skeleton from the Blue Boar’s courtyard did in fact exist, but as disgraced as Harry Stafford was, it is beyond unlikely that he would be buried under tiles near an inn’s scullery. Traitor though he was, he was of royal blood and Richard’s cousin. Salisbury being a place of very ancient occupation, the remains from the Blue Boar could have been from any period from the prehistoric onwards, or even those of a more recent murder victim.
There was no mention of any ‘block’ at the time the skeleton was found, so this tale of the headman’s block being found seems to have been a slightly later addition to the Buckingham legend. How one would tell exactly what it was meant to be after being buried for centuries is also debatable. I am sure it was not still running blood, ahem.
A radio carbon date could, of course, rule the carved box in or out–just like it could rule in or out those debatable Bones in the Urn.