John Ketch (died November 1686), generally known as Jack Ketch,[1] was an infamous English executioner employed by King Charles II.[2] He became famous through the way he performed his duties during the tumults of the 1680s, when he was often mentioned in broadsheet accounts that circulated throughout the Kingdom of England. He is thought to have been appointed in 1663. He executed the death sentences against William Russell, Lord Russell, in Lincoln's Inn Fields on 21 July 1683, and James Scott, 1st Duke of Monmouth, on 15 July 1685, after the Monmouth Rebellion. Ketch's notoriety stems from "barbarity at the execution of Lord Russell, the Duke of Monmouth, and other political offenders".[3]

Jack Ketch
Monmouth's Execution.gif
James Scott, 1st Duke of Monmouth's execution, on Tower Hill, by Jack Ketch, on 15 July 1685, on a playing card
John Ketch
DiedNovember 1686
Other namesJack Ketch
Years activec.1663–1686
Known forBeing an infamous English executioner employed by King Charles II of England.

Because of his botched executions, the name "Jack Ketch" is used as a proverbial name for death, Satan and executioners.[2][4][5]


Ketch took office in 1663, succeeding the late Edward Dun, to whom he had been apprenticed. He is first mentioned in the Proceedings of the Old Bailey for 14 January 1676,[6] although no printed notice of the new hangman occurred until 2 December 1678, when a broadside appeared called The Plotters Ballad, being Jack Ketch's incomparable Receipt for the Cure of Traytorous Recusants and Wholesome Physick for a Popish Contagion.[Note 1] In 1679, there appears from another pamphlet purporting to be written by Ketch himself, and entitled The Man of Destiny's Hard Fortune, that the hangman was confined for a time in the Marshalsea prison, "whereby his hopeful harvest was like to have been blasted."[7] A short entry in the autobiography of Anthony à Wood for 31 August 1681 describes how Stephen College was hanged in the Castle Yard, Oxford, "and when he had hanged about half an hour, was cut down by Catch or Ketch, and quartered under the gallows, his entrails were burnt in a fire made by the gallows".[7][Note 2]

Lord Russell's executionEdit

On that occasion, Ketch wielded the instrument of death either with such sadistically nuanced skill or with such lack of simple dexterity – nobody could tell which – that the victim suffered horrifically under blow after blow, each excruciating but not in itself lethal. Even among the bloodthirsty throngs that habitually attended English beheadings, the gory and agonizing display had created such outrage that Ketch felt moved to write and publish a pamphlet titled Apologie, in which he excused his performance with the claim that Lord Russell had failed to "dispose himself as was most suitable" and that he was therefore distracted while taking aim on his neck.[9]

James Scott, 1st Duke of Monmouth's executionEdit

He [the duke] would not make use of a cap or other circumstance, but lying down, bid the fellow to do his office better than to the late Lord Russell, and gave him gold; but the wretch made five chops before he had his head off; which so incensed the people, that had he not been guarded and got away, they would have torn him to pieces.[10]

Later life and deathEdit

In January 1686, Ketch was committed to Bridewell Prison for "affronting" a sheriff. His assistant, Paskah Rose, formerly a butcher, took his place, but on 28 May, following his conviction for robbery, Rose himself was hanged at Tyburn and Ketch reinstated. Ketch died in November 1686.[7]


In 1836 a fictitious autobiography of Ketch, with illustrations from designs by Meadows entitled The autobiography of Jack Ketch, was published.[7][11] Another book entitled Life of Jack Ketch with Cuts of his own Execution was furnished by Tom Hood for the Duke of Devonshire's library at Chatsworth.[7]

Jack Ketch is one of the characters in Giovanni Piccini (d.1835) The Tragical Comedy or Comical Tragedy of Punch and Judy as dictated to John Payne Collier, in 1828.[12] He is mentioned in the Charles Dickens novels Oliver Twist, Dombey and Son, The Pickwick Papers[13] and David Copperfield and in the C. M. Kornbluth science fiction story "The Marching Morons" (1951). More recently, Jack Ketch plays a role in Neal Stephenson's 2003 and 2004 volumes Quicksilver and The System of the World, the first and last volumes, respectively, in his The Baroque Cycle series (though the last volume is set in 1714, well after the death of the historical Jack Ketch.) Ketch makes a brief appearance in issue #10 of Bill Willingham's comic book series Fables.



  1. ^ "On the top of the sheet is a woodcut, in which is represented Edward Coleman [q. v.] drawn in a sledge to the place of execution, exclaiming, 'I am sick of a traytorous disease,' while Jack Ketch, with a hatchet in one hand and a rope in the other, is saying, 'Here's your cure, sir.' "[7]
  2. ^ "[Aug.] 31. Wednesday at 11. Stephen College, born at Watford in Hertfordshire, nephew to Edmund College of St. Peter's in the Bayly, suffered death by hanging in the castle yard Oxon, and when he had hanged about half an hour was cut down by Catch or Ketch, and quartered, under the gallows, his entrails were burnt in a fire made by the gallows. He spoke and prayed more than half an hour, his body was, after quartering, put into a coffin, and the same day was conveyed to London, and buried privately the Thursday following at night in St. Gregory's church near St. Paul's."[8]


  1. ^ "Jack Ketch (English executioner)". Inc. Retrieved 24 August 2010.
  2. ^ a b Kronenwetter, Michael (2001). Capital punishment: a reference handbook. ABC-CLIO. p. 172. ISBN 978-1-57607-432-9.
  3. ^ Green, Jonathon (2005). Cassell's dictionary of slang. Sterling Publishing Company, Inc. p. 782. ISBN 978-0-304-36636-1.
  4. ^ Halperin, Rick (12 February 2006). "[Deathpenalty]death penalty news----worldwide". Archived from the original on 20 July 2011. Retrieved 23 August 2010.
  5. ^ Grose, Captain (September 2008). 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue. BiblioBazaar, LLC. p. 178. ISBN 978-0-559-13810-2. Retrieved 23 August 2010.
  6. ^ "Killing > murder, 14th January 1676 (t16760114-7)". Old Bailey Proceedings Online. Retrieved 9 October 2011.
  7. ^ a b c d e f Lee, Sidney, ed. (1892). "Ketch, John" . Dictionary of National Biography. Vol. 31. London: Smith, Elder & Co. pp. 71–2.
  8. ^ Wood, Anthony à (1813). Athenae Oxonienses: An exact history of all the writers and bishops who have had their education in the University of Oxford. To which are added the Fasti, or Annals of the said University. Rivington. p. 92. Retrieved 23 August 2010.
  9. ^ Fiorillo, Juré (1 January 2010). Great Bastards of History: True and Riveting Accounts of the Most Famous Illegitimate Children Who Went on to Achieve Greatness. Fair Winds. p. 82. ISBN 978-1-59233-401-8. Retrieved 23 August 2010.
  10. ^ Evelyn, John; Bray, William (1889). The diary of John Evelyn, Esq., F. R. S.: from 1641 to 1705-6 : with memoir. F. Warne. p. 481.
  11. ^ Whitehead, Charles (1835). The autobiography of Jack Ketch. Carey, Lea & Blanchard. Retrieved 23 August 2010.
  12. ^ Banham 1995, p. 888.
  13. ^ Dickens, Charles (1837). The Pickwick Papers. Premier Classics. p. 119. ISBN 978-0-307-29175-2.



External linksEdit

Preceded by British office of hangman
Succeeded by