25. "O I Hope God Will Move Yor Heart"

CHALONER DID NOT GO silently to his appointed fate. "After his Condemnation, he was continually crying out that they had Murder'd him," his biographer recorded, that "the Witnesses were perjur'd and he had not Justice done him." He fought, he raged, he whimpered. Following the conventional demands of the true-crime genre, his one biographer mocked Chaloner's terror, writing that he "struggl'd and flounc'd about for Life, like a Whale struck with a Harping Iron."

One hope remained to him. The presiding judge had to forward the death sentences imposed at each court session to the King and his ministers for review. The court could recommend clemency—but not Lovell's, not in this case. On March 19, Secretary of State Vernon brought nine capital cases from the sessions to William Ill. Two of the condemned received royal mercy, and lived. But Chaloner "was too well known to be credited"—certainly to the men handling the appeal. In essence, whatever the defects of his trial, Chaloner's crimes were too familiar to those in the know. Thus "his Character contributed to his Ruine ... so that the Warrant for Execution being sign'd he was amongst the number appointed to die."

Chaloner received the news in Newgate. He was still being watched, more for entertainment now than for any judicial purpose. Thomas Carter reported to Newton that "Chaloner ... p[er]sistted to the last how in[no]sent he was for wh. he dyed." His biographer added (or, as likely, manufactured) the sensational details: on hearing the King had signed his death warrant, Chaloner "bellow'd and roar'd worse than an Irish woman at a Funeral; nothing but Murder! Murder! Oh I am murder'd! was to be heard from him." He was inconsolable: "nothing cou'd be thought on to make him take that patiently, which he must embrace whether he would or no."

Chaloner was certainly terrified. In a last letter to Newton, he started off badly, writing as if there were still something to be argued: "allthough p[er]haps you may think not but tis true I shall be murdered the worst of all murders that is in the face of Justice unless I am rescued by yor mercifull hands." He reprised all the defects of his "unprecendented Tryall": that none of the witnesses told the court they had actually seen him coin; that London crimes could not be tried by Middlesex juries; that most of the testimony did not bear on the date specified in the indictment; that the witnesses perjured themselves out of malice and self-interest.

Toward the end of the letter he seems to have realized that his tone was hardly likely to persuade the man who had orchestrated every detail of the proceedings that had brought him to the edge of disaster, and in his final passage Chaloner abandoned any semblance of argument. "My offending you has brought this uponn me," he wrote. But could not his enemy relent? "Dear'S[i]r do this mercifull deed O for God's Sake if not mine keep me from being murdered."

And then: "O dear S[i]r nobody can save me but you O God my God I shall be murderd unless you save me O I hope God will move yor heart with mercy and pitty to do this thing for me."

And once more:

I am

Yo[u]r near murdered humble Servt

W. Chaloner.

Isaac Newton, victorious at last, did not trouble himself to reply.

The morning of March 22 found William Chaloner in full cry. A day or two earlier, in a last gesture of bravado, he had sent the long-missing Malt copper plate to the Tower—a gift for the Warden of the Mint. But now, when his jailers came for him, he brandished a list of complaints and demanded that it be printed. He was refused.

To the chapel next, where he joined the other prisoners bound for the gallows. He may have sat before the coffin that was sometimes placed on a table before the condemned men's pew. When the chaplain urged him to show the proper spirit of repentance, Chaloner refused, shouting with "more Passion than Piety." The chaplain tried to calm him, but Chaloner raged on. "Notwithstanding the great Care and Pains of the Reverend Ordinary, twas difficult to bring him to a sense of that Charity and Forgiveness proper to all Christians, but more especially to [d]ying Men." Finally, Chaloner steadied himself enough to receive the sacrament, and the doomed worshipers filed out into the open air.

The convoy set out at about noon, bound for the traditional execution ground at Tyburn, now Marble Arch. Some of the condemned men traveled in style. John Arthur, an infamous highwayman, sat at ease in a coach and was cheered by the crowd as he paused at public houses along the way, arriving at the gallows as drunk as he cared to be.

Chaloner had no such comfort. Once Parliament turned coining into a species of high treason, the execution of coiners followed the same brutal sequence of punishment laid down for those found guilty in Guy Fawkes's Gunpowder Plot. A traitor drank no gin. No one cheered his name. Chaloner was brought to the place of execution on a rough sledge—no wheels. There were no underground sewers in seventeenth-century London, only courses in the roadways to carry sewage to the river. As the sledge bounced along, fountains of filth would have erupted, human and animal waste splattering his clothes, arms, face. All the while he continued to call out his innocence, crying "to the Spectators that he was Murder'd by Perjury." He would have reached the execution ground at Tyburn stinking, wet, cold, and mercilessly sober.

The method of execution for traitors had been in place since Edward I killed the Scots insurgent William Wallace. The condemned must be "hanged by the neck but not until you are dead ... taken down again, and that whilst you are yet alive, your bowels [must] be taken out and burnt before your faces, and that your bodies be divided each into four quarters, and your heads and quarters be at the King's disposal." Counterfeiters got a reprieve: they were permitted to choke on the noose till they died, so that any mutilation of their bodies would take place on their corpses.

At his turn for the gallows, Chaloner once more cried out that "he was murder'd ... under pretence of Law." A minister approached him and again bade him show the penitence and forgiveness demanded of those about to die. This time Chaloner accepted his set role and paused for a moment "to pray with much fervency."

The rope dangled from three crossbeams set in a triangle—Tyburn's Hanging Tree. Prisoners mounted a ladder to put their heads through the noose. Trap-door gallows that could kill quickly would not enter common use in England for another sixty years. When the moment came, the executioner's men would pull the ladder out of the way and the condemned dangled, twitching and jumping (the "hangman's dance") as long as it took—sometimes several minutes—for life to choke out of him.

Chaloner showed courage at the end. He mounted the ladder. Then, "Pulling his Cap himself over his Eyes, [he] submitted to the stroke of justice." Richer men often paid the hangman to pull on their legs to speed death. Not the destitute Chaloner. He had to choke till he drooped, to the greater amusement of the crowd.

William Chaloner lies in no known grave. He does possess an epitaph, the last lines of the biography printed within days of his execution:

"Thus liv'd and thus dy'd a Man who had he square'd his Talent by the Rules of Justice and integrity might have been useful to the Commonwealth: But as he follow'd only the Dictates of Vice, was as a rotten Member cut off."

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