13 Inventors Foiled By Their Own Inventions

James Douglas, 4th Earl of Morton

James Douglas, 4th Earl of Mor... is listed (or ranked) 10 on the list 13 Inventors Foiled By Their Own Inventions

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“The Maiden” guillotineBACKSTORY

James Douglas, 4th Earl of Morton, was an influential Scottish lord best remembered for his important role in the overthrow of Mary, Queen of Scots in 1567, and his later role as a Regent ruling Scotland on behalf of the infant king James VI of Scotland (later James I of England.) Just so it’s clear, he’s known as Morton even though his name was James Douglas, just like how they call Lord Grantham “Grantham” on Downton Abbey even though his real name is Robert Crawley. Obvi.


While visiting Halifax, West Yorkshire, in England, Morton was particularly impressed with a killing device called the “Halifax Gibbet.” It was basically a primitive guillotine, with an axe head attached to a heavy block, which was then lifted using a rope and pulley. Then the victim was placed underneath the axe and… BOOM… you’ve got a beheaded person. Morton was so impressed by the “clean death” afforded by the Halifax Gibbet, he commissioned his own version back in Scotland from carpenters Adam and Patrick Shang and George Tod.

Though construction was completed in 1564, it wasn’t used at all until the following year, and was then only used sporadically afterwards. Can you imagine the Qin Dynasty waiting that long? They’d have laid waste to 18 generations of one another by this point. This lack of use led to the device being nicknamed “The Maiden.” Yes, even execution devices can be forever alone.


If you’ve been paying attention to this list, it should be obvious. Morton was eventually arrested in connection with the assassination of Lord Darnley, husband of Mary, Queen of Scots, and father of her son, James VI of Scotland. (Morton eventually admitted that he had knowledge of the murder plot against Darnley.) He was executed in 1581 on “The Maiden” and left there for a full day until his body (now headless) was buried in an unmarked grave. His head remained on a spike outside St. Giles Cathedral in Edinburgh for another 18 months, which must have smelled AWESOME.

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