Monday, July 30, 2007

Scot Free

Another little tidbit I learned while touring the Tower of London was the origin of the phrase “he got off Scot free.”

It seems that many hundreds of years ago, one of the prisoners sentenced to death at the Tower of London was a Scotsman. This wily character was deemed dangerous enough to only be brought into the Tower through the maximum-security, all waterway entrance known as the Traitor’s Gate.

No prisoner had ever previously escaped from that entry point and no one other than that lone Scotsman ever did again. That proud Scott did escape and lived the remainder of his days a free man back in Scotland.

Hence, the phrase “he got off Scot free” came into the language (or at least this is the story told by the Tower’s tour guide!).


Saturday, July 28, 2007


An excellent guide gave us a tour of the Tower of London on our recent sightseeing expedition in that city. The guide shared many tales of old from the Tower’s 700 year history. Many of these tales had to do with the ritual beheadings of prisoners; a weekly event well into the 1600’s (not really all that long ago!).

The public popularity of the beheadings was so strong that the definition of “prisoner” became more and more flexible over time so that the public’s appetite for a good beheading could be readily assuaged. As he held our attention with the tales, I remember thinking “gee, I’m glad society has progressed beyond the Sunday-go-to-beheadings stage.”

Then, just two short days later in a local London newspaper, I read that in the kingdom of Saudi Arabia, there have been 109 deaths by beheading in just the first seven months of 2007. The Saudis use death by beheading as their preferred form of punishment for a wide variety of crimes; including the crime committed when a foreigner brings into their country any religious or pornographic materials; at least they warn you of this right on their VISA application.

Don’t know if the Saudis consider it effective or not as a crime deterrent but the use of human beheadings is still as gruesome a thought today as it was in the 13-17th centuries of the Tower of London’s history. Maybe society has not progressed as far as we like to think.