Jack Ketch was a man in need of a career change. As the official executioner during King Charles II’s 17th-century reign, Ketch handled a number of political executions. However, he lacked a knack for the job. He frequently required as many as five swings before successfully beheading a prisoner. His butchery of the politician William Russell was so messy and reviled that Ketch took it upon himself to write a pamphlet after the execution, apologizing for his poor performance and blaming it on Russell’s inability to hold still.
At Ketch’s most high-profile assignment, the execution of the rebel Duke of Monmouth, the duke mentioned Ketch’s earlier bungling of the Russell execution. This made Ketch nervous, and his three shaky axe strikes failed to complete the severing. Pleading, “I can’t do it,” Ketch attempted to flee the site, but the sheriffs forced him to return and finish the job. It took several more hacks with the axe and the assistance of a knife to successfully separate Monmouth’s head from his body.
Due to his notoriety, “Jack Ketch” became a generic term in the UK for executioners and Satan.