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The Execution of Lady Jane Grey by Paul Delaroche. National Gallery, London

The Execution of Lady Jane Grey by Paul Delaroche. National Gallery, London

As Edward VI lay on his deathbed in 1553 he wanted a protestant heir to the throne – (or at least his advisors did ). He was only 15 years of age. Rather than name his Catholic half-sister Mary as his successor, he left the throne to his aunt’s descendents, in the knowledge that Jane, a staunch protestant, would be next in line to the throne.

Mary I Declared Queen

However, within only a few days, Mary had gathered enough support to ride into London in a triumphal procession. Parliament declared Mary the rightful Queen – and Jane and her husband were imprisoned for treason. Jane’s husband Guilford was publicly beheaded at Tower Hill. A horse and cart brought his body back to the Tower of London, past the rooms where Jane was held prisoner. Jane was then taken out to Tower Green for a private execution rather than a public one – this was expressly ordered by Queen Mary out of respect for her cousin.

Queen Mary

Queen Mary, allowed Jane a private execution

The Scaffold

On ascending the scaffold Jane gave her gloves and handkerchief to her maid, and then recited Psalm 51 in English. Tyndale had translated the Bible into English in 1525, but any editions before 1570 were very rare so it is possible that Jane translated this psalm herself, as she was a scholar of biblical languages. The Roman Catholic priest sent by Mary to try to convert Jane to Catholicism, stayed with her during the execution.

“What shall I do? Where is it?”

Jane is reported to have turned to the executioner saying, “I pray you dispatch me quickly”. Then, indicating her head, asked, “Will you take it off before I lay me down?” to which the executioner answered, “No, madam”. Jane put on her blindfold herself, wanting to go to her death with dignity – however once blindfolded, she could not find the executioner’s block, and began to panic, crying “What shall I do? Where is it?” (This is the moment depicted in the painting by Delaroche above) An unknown hand helped her, and with her head on the block, Jane spoke the last words of Jesus from St Luke’s gospel, “Lord, into thy hands I commend my spirit!” She was then beheaded.

Psalm 51

edge2Have mercy upon me, O God,

according to thy lovingkindness:

according unto the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions.

Wash me throughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.

For I acknowledge my transgressions: and my sin is ever before me.

Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight: that thou mightest be justified when thou speakest, and be clear when thou judgest.

Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me.

Behold, thou desirest truth in the inward parts: and in the hidden part thou shalt make me to know wisdom.

Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean: wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.

Make me to hear joy and gladness; that the bones which thou hast broken may rejoice.

Hide thy face from my sins, and blot out all mine iniquities.

edgeCreate in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me.

Cast me not away from thy presence; and take not thy holy spirit from me.

Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation; and uphold me with thy free spirit.

Then will I teach transgressors thy ways; and sinners shall be converted unto thee.

Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, thou God of my salvation: and my tongue shall sing aloud of thy righteousness.

O Lord, open thou my lips; and my mouth shall shew forth thy praise.

For thou desirest not sacrifice; else would I give it: thou delightest not in burnt offering.

The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.

Do good in thy good pleasure unto Zion: build thou the walls of Jerusalem.

Then shalt thou be pleased with the sacrifices of righteousness, with burnt offering and whole burnt offering: then shall they offer bullocks upon thine altar.

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The Tower of London at night : Antoine Debroye on Flickr (click image)

The Tower of London at night : Antoine Debroye on Flickr (click image)

for alleged treason. Gerard had been facing accusations that he had tried to turn people from loyalty to Queen Elizabeth. As
part of his examination, he had been tortured which had left him in a weakened physical state. Had he eventually been found
guilty then he would have faced a terrible execution. A decision was made that Gerard would try to escape – but how could
this be done?
After bribing the warder, Gerard had been allowed to visit and conduct mass with a fellow Catholic called John Arden who had
been imprisoned following accusations of involvement in an anti-Government plot. Gerard was being held in a part of the Tower
of London called the Salt Tower which was across a garden from the Cradle Tower, where Arden was being held. Whilst visiting
Arden one day, Gerard realised that the Cradle Tower was close to the outside wall, which overlooked the moat at the foot of
the Tower of London. Gerard worked out that with outside assistance, it might be possible to lower oneself from the top of
the tower to the other side of the moat.
A letter (written partly in orange Juice) asking for help was smuggled out to Richard Fulwood, an old servant of Gerards, and
also to John Lillie a Catholic sympathiser. On October 3rd, 1597 Gerard and Arden were allowed to spend the evening together.
As soon as they warder had gone they began to loosen the stone around the bolt on a door which led to the roof of the cradle
tower. They reached the roof at midnight, in time to see a rowing boat containing three men approach the walls. As they were
about to make contact,a man came from a house below and assuming the men were fishing began to engage them in conversation.
Gerard waited patiently for the man to leave but by the time he left it was too late for an escape that night. The tide had
risen on the Thames and as the men rowed back towards Old London Bridge they were pinned by the rising water against the
piles of the bridge. At this point there was a danger of the boat capsizing – drowning the would be rescuers. Luckily, they
were saved by the presence of a large sea going boat and the skills of a group of sailors who managed to rescue them.
Thinking that the escape was doomed, Gerard was suprised to hear next day that the rescusers were going to try again. Waiting
again until they had been locked in the Tower together, Gerard and Arden climbed onto the roof. Throwing down a weighted cord
they raised up a rope that had been tied to it by the rescuers below. The plan had been to slide down the rope but the angle
it made meant that instead the escapers had to pull themselves hand over hand along it’s length. It is worth remembering that
Gerard had recently been tortured by being suspended in manacles, which made a hazardous descent even more difficult.
After his companion managed to climb down gerard realised that the rope which had been straight was now sagging – making the
climb even more difficult. Holding the rope between his legs, Gerard pulled himself out from the high roof. Half way across
he became exhausted and at one point was left hanging in the darkness, strength failing. Incredibly he managed to find
strength and reached the end of the rope too weak to pull himself up without help from Arden. Gerard was assisted into the
waiting boat which was rowed at speed away from the Tower of London.
Gerard was eventually smuggled out of England and escaped to live the rest of his life as an exile in Rome. Here, he wrote
his life story, ‘The Autobiography of an Elizabethan’ which is where the above account is taken from. I can really reccomend
this book to anyone who is interested in Elizabethan history. Whilst I at it I can also recommend the story of these times to
any Hollywood producer who happens to read this!

In 1597 the Tower of London was the scene of an incredible and daring escape. Had this happened recently it would end up being re-enacted by Hollywood. As it is, this is a little known event – but hopefully, a better known one when you have read this post.

Having been betrayed and captured by Pursuivants, the Jesuit Priest John Gerard had been imprisoned in the Tower of London, awaiting trial for alleged treason. Gerard had been facing accusations that he had tried to turn people from loyalty to Queen Elizabeth. As part of his examination, he had been tortured which had left him in a weakened physical state. Had he eventually been found guilty then he would have faced a terrible execution. A decision was made that Gerard would try to escape – but how could this be done?

Bribery & a secret message to the outside

After bribing the warder, Gerard had been allowed to visit and conduct mass with a fellow Catholic called John Arden who had been imprisoned following accusations of involvement in an anti-Government plot.

A map of the Tower of London 1597

A map of the Tower of London 1597

Gerard was being held in the Salt Tower – across a garden from the Cradle Tower, where Arden was being held. Whilst visiting Arden, Gerard realised that the Cradle Tower was close to the outside wall, overlooking the moat. Gerard calculated that with outside assistance, it might be possible to lower oneself by rope from the top of the tower to the other side of the moat and freedom.

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A letter written in Orange Juice – click image to see our earlier post on this subject

A letter (written partly in orange Juice) asking for help was smuggled out to Richard Fulwood, an old servant of Gerards, and also to John Lillie a Catholic sympathiser. Between them they helped to work out a possible, but dangerous escape plan.

A failed escape – which nearly ends in tragedy.

On October 3rd, 1597 Gerard and Arden were allowed to spend the evening together. As soon as they warder had gone they began to loosen the stone around the bolt on a door leading to the roof of the Cradle tower. They reached the roof at midnight, in time to see a rowing boat containing three men approach the walls. As they were about to make contact, a man came from a house below and assuming the men were fishing, began to engage them in conversation.

Gerard waited patiently for the man to leave but by the time he departed it was too late for an escape that night. Meanwhile, the tide had risen on the Thames and as the men rowed back towards Old London Bridge they were pinned by the rising water against the piles of the bridge. At this point there was a danger of the boat capsizing – drowning the would be rescuers. Luckily, they were saved by the presence of a large sea going boat and the skills of a group of sailors who managed to rescue them.

Old London Bridge - the Thames is powerful and dangerous at this point

Old London Bridge – the Thames is powerful and dangerous at this point

A second attempt is made

Thinking that the escape was doomed, Gerard was suprised to hear next day that the rescusers were going to try again. Waiting again until they had been locked in the Tower together, Gerard and Arden climbed onto the roof. Throwing down a weighted cord they raised up a rope that had been tied to it by the rescuers below. The plan had been to slide down the rope but the angle it made meant that instead the escapers had to pull themselves hand over hand along its length. It is worth remembering that Gerard had recently been tortured by being suspended in manacles, which made a hazardous descent even more difficult.

After his companion managed to climb down, Gerard realised that the rope which had been straight was now sagging – making the climb even more difficult. Holding the rope between his legs, Gerard pulled himself out from the high roof. Half way across he became exhausted and at one point was left hanging in the darkness, strength failing.

The Tower of London

The Tower of London

‘I managed to work myself as far as the middle of the rope, and there I stuck. My strength was failing and my breath, which was short before I started, seemed altogether spent’

Incredibly he managed to struggle on, reaching the end of the rope too weak to pull himself up without help from Arden. Gerard was assisted into the waiting boat which was rowed at speed away from the Tower of London.

Escape and exile from England.

Gerard was eventually smuggled out of England and escaped to live the rest of his life as an exile in Rome. Here, he wrote his life story  ‘ The Autobiography of an Elizabethan‘  from which the above account is taken. His book is packed with stories about his life in Elizabeths England – well worth a read if you are interested in this period. Also, if you do read it then pass it on to any movie producers you come across as this would make a really great historical epic!

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The Rack.

The rack in the Tower of London was used throughout the Tudor period in England. It was reserved for those identified as having committed the most serious of crimes against the state.

In theory there were rules about the use of torture. For example, people were not meant to be tortured to death or tortured repeatedly. People who were physically weak were not mean to be tortured because they might not survive the process. Attempts were made to start with ‘milder’ tortures before moving on to the rack if all else failed.

1984 Burg Bewartstein Torture Devices 02 (broken thoughts Flickr: Click image)

1984 Burg Bewartstein Torture Devices 02 (broken thoughts Flickr: Click image)

Terrible physical damage.

On the rack, a victims legs and arms were tied to bars at either end of the device, rollers were then used to stretch the body.  The tension was maintained and gradually increased by use of a ratchet.

This caused terrible pain for the victim as well as increasing physical damage as the torture continued. Tendons were ripped, joints separated and bones fractured. The sounds of muscles and tendons tearing and snapping provided audible signs of the damage being done. A victim of the rack was often left with permanent physical disability. For example, because of injuries suffered after being racked three times the Jesuit priest Edmund Campion was unable to raise his hand to swear at his trial.

The rack

The manacles.

Eventually, public disgust led to the Rack’s use being restricted. Richard Topcliffe, a notorious torturer, claimed to have invented the use of ‘gauntlets’ or manacles as a torture instrument. This was considered to be a lesser form of torture, however, this distinction may well have been lost upon people who experienced it. John Gerard, another Jesuit Priest described being hung by his wrists from a post in a torture chamber in the Tower of London.

manacles-tower

‘ such a gripping pain came over me. It was worst in my chest and belly, my hands and arms. All the blood in my body seemed to rush up into my arms and hands and I thought that blood was oozing out from the ends of my fingers and the pores of my skin. But it was only a sensation caused by my flesh swelling above the irons holding them. The pain was so intense that I thought I could not possibly endure it.’

Gerard remained hanging for several hours and was only taken down after fainting. As soon as he revived he was put back into the manacles and suspended again. This continued until after 5’oclock when he was eventually returned to his cell. Incredibly, Gerard never broke and maintained his refusal to answer the questions put to him.

A terrible death.

Official reluctance to use torture was abandoned in cases of those suspected of involvement in the Gunpowder plot. In an incident which became infamous, Nicholas Owen the builder of secret hiding places was racked to death in the Tower of London. Owen, who was starved out of a hide during a search in Worcestershire was taken to the Tower for examination. Because of his knowledge about the secret Catholic organisation, Owen was a potentially valuable source of information.

Unfortunately for the authorities however, he never revealed any secrets and died on the rack without saying anything of use. An embarassed Government tried to suggest that he had killed himself with a knife. The truth is that an earlier injury ruptured and according to John Gerard ‘his bowels gushed out together with his life’ .

Torture – a controversial practice.

Official use of torture continued in England until the 1640’s. Throughout it’s use in this country it caused controversy, both on moral grounds as well as it’s usefulness – obviously, evidence obtained under torture has very limited use.

Sadly, this subject has current relevance as we continue to  hear discussion around the rights and wrongs of torture. The rack is no longer employed, having perhaps been replaced by ‘waterboarding’ ? We are left to question whether we have really moved on all that much from our Tudor predecessors?

PS Since writing this post I came across this – things really haven’t moved on much from the 16th/17th Century!

I also found this blog which is worth a look.

See also this related post about John Gerards eventual escape from the Tower as well as more about Topcliffe here

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PS – anyone got a spare Google wave invite? You could become Tudor Stuff flavour of the month? (if you do just leave a comment somewhere on the blog for me – it will never appear in public btw)

See also:

Google books Torture & democracy

Human rights education association

Medieval torture

Middle ages torture

Wikipedia – Torture

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winters gibbet by night. Amblekingrat on flickr (Click image)

winters gibbet by night. Amblekingrat on flickr (Click image)

I took a quick  look through the posts we have made so far on this blog and noticed that a great many of them refer to the cultural achievements of Tudor times. This period saw an extraordinary flowering of music, poetry, literature, painting and the theatre. However, these times are also remembered for the savage treatment that offenders could recieve, and this post examines the subject of capital punishment.

Hanging.

Death by hanging was the most commonly used form of capital punishment. This was imposed upon those convicted of murder and manslaughter as well as a range of other crimes. In 1563, Queen Elizabeth’s government passed an anti-witchcraft law making it a capital offence to cause the death of a person by witchcraft. Although we often think of burning at the stake as a Witches punishment it was far more common for hanging to be used in these circumstances. A witch could be imprisoned for a first offence of harming a person but this would become a death penalty for a second offence. As well as witchcraft, other offences were punishable by death such as buggery, rape, and stealing hawks.hanging

The condemned person was usually placed beneath the gallows on a horse drawn cart, once the rope was around the neck the horse was led away and the person left to hang (sometimes a ladder was used as per the illustration ). This method of hanging often meant the person died slowly of strangulation, as a mercy people were sometimes allowed to pull on the victim’s legs to hasten the process. In more recent times great care was taken to ensure that the execution was quick and efficient (this film gives some information).

Off with his head!

In the case of offenders from the nobility the penalty was to be beheaded. This would often take place away from the public eye, in London of course this meant execution on Tower green within the walls of the Tower of London. In the case of Anne Boleyn, a specialist swordsman was brought from France for the occasion to ensure that the death was a quick one. Thomas Cromwell however was not so fortunate. The executioner was incompetent and the first axe blow cleaved into Cromwell’s skull. There were reports that it took several blows to remove his head and rumours were that this had been arranged on purpose.

beheaded

Burnt at the stake.

Heretics were sentenced to death by burning at the stake, a punishment meant to symbolise the flames that awaited the sinner in hell. Although used throughout the Tudor period it reached a peak during the reign of Mary I where an estimated 200-400 people died this way. Revulsion at this penalty is said to have hardened the resolve of many people against Catholicism and the memory of these executions was kept alive by the very popular book called ‘Foxes book of Martyrs’. Even this horror was not enough for some offenders.

burning-1

Hung, drawn and quartered.

People convicted of high treason could be sentenced to be hung drawn and quartered. This punishment which was first developed in the time of Edward the first was a particularly brutal event. The term ‘drawn’ has a couple of meanings, firstly it refers to the way that the condemned persons were tied to a hurdle and drawn through the streets, usually tied head down behind the horse.hung-drawn-quartered

Once upon the scaffold the person was hung until nearly dead. Upon being cut down their ‘privy parts’ were cut off before their innards were ‘drawn’ from them (ideally whilst still alive) – these were thrown upon the fire and the person was then beheaded. After this the person would be cut into quarters and these parts were displayed prominently as a warning to others.

The illustration below dates from 1616 and shows the old London Bridge – if you look at the tower at the entrance to the bridge on the Southwark side of the river you can see the heads displayed on spikes above the entrance.

London Bridge 1616 : Claes Van Visscher

London Bridge 1616 : Claes Van Visscher

The death penalty today – facts from Amnesty International

See also our earlier post Anne Boleyn &  ‘Tyburn Martyrs’

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See also:

Death penalty information center

Medieval life and times : Execution

Ultimate top ten lists – execution

Wikipedia capital punishment

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anne-boleyn

Anne Boleyn has captured the popular imagination down the centuries.  Her marriage to Henry VIII has been seen as the culmination of a passionate encounter which brought about the reformation of the church in England – and the birth of Elizabeth I.
She is said to have utterly captivated Henry VIII whilst he was still married to Catherine of Aragon.  She is described as having a large mole or goiter on her neck, and a sixth finger on one of her hands. The Venetian ambassador said she was ‘not one of the handsomest women in the world’.
If we believe these records, something about her so captivated Henry VIII that he pursued her relentlessly.  She rejected all his advances to make her his mistress.  Henry’s passion forced him to seek the annulment of his marriage to Catherine of Aragon – even though this meant a break with the Pope and a dispute with the Emperor Charles V.

Love letters from the King

Vatican Library by Lawrence OP on Flickr

Vatican Library by Lawrence OP on Flickr (click)

Seventeen of Henry VIII’s famous love letters to Anne Boleyn exist.  Oddly enough these are now held in the Vatican Library. Only one of Anne’s love letters to the king has survived. The contents of the letter suggest it was written in late summer/early autumn of 1526.

Sire
It belongs only to the august mind of a great king, to whom Nature has given a heart full of generosity towards the sex, to repay by favors so extraordinary an artless and short conversation with a girl.

Inexhaustible as is the treasury of your majesty’s bounties, I pray you to consider that it cannot be sufficient to your generosity; for, if you recompense so slight a conversation by gifts so great, what will you be able to do for those who are ready to consecrate their entire obedience to your desires?

How great soever may be the bounties I have received, the joy that I feel in being loved by a king whom I adore, and to whom I would with pleasure make a sacrifice of my heart, if fortune had rendered it worthy of being offered to him, will ever be infinitely greater.


The warrant of maid of honor to the queen induces me to think that your majesty has some regard for me, since it gives me means of seeing you oftener, and of assuring you by my own lips (which I shall do on the first opportunity) that I am,
Your majesty’s very obliged and very obedient servant, without any reserve,


Anne Bulen.

Marriage

Henry and Anne married in 1533. The future Queen Elizabeth I was born the same year – it appears Anne may have been pregnant when they married.  Henry was angry to find his child was a girl, however supporters of Catherine of Aragon were delighted, believing this was God’s verdict on the marriage.  In 1536 Anne gave birth to a boy – however the child was born dead.  Later that year Henry accused Anne of adultery with five other men.  These men – along with Anne – were then executed.

Execution

The execution of Anne took place on 19 May 1536 at 8 o’clock in the morning.  It was the first public execution of an English queen.
The account of Anne Boleyn’s speech at her execution was recorded in the Annals of John Stow. The account mentions the ‘hangman of Calais’ who was brought to London for the execution:

“All these being on a scaffold made there for the execution, the said Queen Anne said as followeth: Masters, I here humbly submit me to the law, as the law hath judged me, and as for mine offences, God knoweth them, I remit them to God, beseeching him to have mercy on my soul; and I beseech Jesu save my Sovereign and master the King, the most goodliest, and gentlest Prince that is, and long to reign over you, which words she spake with a smiling countenance: which done, she kneeled down on both her knees, and said, To Jesu Christ I commend my soul and with that word suddenly the hangman of Calais smote off her head at one stroke with a sword: her body with the head was buried in the choir of the Chapel in the Tower”


Myths about Anne

There were many who celebrated this execution.  After her death a number of myths sprang up about Anne. Many of these stories had their roots in the writings of Roman Catholics committed to deposing Elizabeth I and re-establishing Roman Catholicism in England.. Nicholas Sander, one such recusant, born c. 1530, in his De Origine ac Progressu schismatis Anglicani (The Rise and Growth of the Anglican Schism), published in 1585, was the first to write that Anne had six fingers on her right hand.  Physical deformities were interpreted as a sign of evil, and it is unlikely that Anne Boleyn would have gained Henry’s romantic attention had she had any.

History seems to have been kinder to Anne Boleyn.  Eric Ives in The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn writes –

‘across the centuries is the impression of a person who is strangely appealing to the early twenty-first century: A woman in her own right—taken on her own terms in a man’s world; a woman who mobilized her education, her style and her presence to outweigh the disadvantages of her sex; of only moderate good looks, but taking a court and a king by storm. Perhaps, in the end, it is Thomas Cromwell’s assessment that comes nearest: intelligence, spirit and courage.<

Anne Boleyn has captured the popular imagination down the centuries.  Her marriage to Henry VIII has been seen as the culmination of a passionate encounter which brought about the reformation of the church in England – and the birth of Elizabeth I.

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See also:

Anne Boleyn at Tudorhistory.org

BBC website

englishhistory.net

Annes birthplace Hever castle

Wikipedia entry

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Tower of LondonTower of London

In 1597,the Jesuit Priest John Gerard was held in the Tower of London on charges of Treason.  Gerard had been tortured and was awaiting trial on charges that would certainly have brought him to the scaffold.

Whilst held in the Tower Gerard was able to smuggle secret messages out to friends and I thought it would be interesting to try and re-create these messages.

Apparently, Gerard managed to please the warden by making him a gift of some oranges that he had been sent. Because of this gift, the warder agreed to allow Gerard to send a gift of crosses made from orange peel to his friends in the clink prison (also in London). The warder agreed that Gerard could write them a message in charcoal as long as he was allowed to check the message first.

Gerard wrote a message in charcoal which must have been all that he had to hand with which to write – as you can see from the poor handwriting below, I found it hard to write anything at all!

Charcoal message
Charcoal message

Once the warder had left the cell, Gerard used the saved orange juice to write another letter onto the paper. Once it had dried,it was used to wrap the crosses and sent to his friends.

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All that the recipieint of the message then had to do was to hold the paper up to a fire, as you can see, a new message appears on the paper. I don’t think it is known what Gerard wrote – I would have written something like this asking for help to escape!

Apparently, this was a well known technique for sending messages.  Sometimes lemon juice was used, but Orange juice has the advantage of permanently marking the paper once heated up. This quality makes it less easy for a  letter to be intercepted and read without detection.

As you can see, from the picture below, the orange juice turns to a dark brown once heated. In practice, it took quite a lot of heat to produce this effect and it was difficult to avoid setting the paper on fire!

Hidden message
Hidden message

I did wonder whether this was where we got the expression “reading between the lines”? – I was unable to find the origin of this and would be interested if anyone knows where this comes from.

(See related post)

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