Recently Shared:

Are Humans Still Briefly Conscious After Decapitation by Guillotine?

On 19 May 1536, Anne was beheaded on Tower Green. She protested her innocence until the last, but her final reported words were uncontroversial, “I am come hither to die, for according to the law and by the law I am judged to die, and therefore I will speak nothing against it … I pray God save the King … for a gentler nor a more merciful prince was there never.”

On the eve of her execution, according to the Constable of the Tower, Anne joked “I heard say the executioner was very good, and I have a little neck” before putting her hands around it and laughing heartily. Henry had granted her the ‘small mercy’ of dying at the hands of a skilled swordsman rather than an executioner’s axe.

Immediately after the event, as the decapitated head rolled into the basket, The swordsman presented the severed head for witnesses to see. But Anne wasn’t ready to quit while she was a head: Onlookers later claimed that the queen’s lips were moving. 

Was she trying to say something?

It has been hypothesized that, even after being cut from the rest of the body, there is sufficient oxygen in the brain to continue for the head to be alive, if only for a few brief seconds. 

Researchers have even made experiments with rats.

They sedated the rats, attached electroencephalograph (EEG) monitoring, and set them up in a rat-sized guillotine. After decapitation, the researchers observed activity for the first 10 to 15 seconds. Kongara described the EEG changes as “significant” and said her team attributed the activity to the rats’ cerebral cortices responding to the pain. The EEG activity was then followed by a termination of brain activity.

So, did they experience the pain? 

There is a new study most recently out that might shed some light. The very same experiment was done with humans.

The study identified four patients who passed away due to cardiac arrest in the hospital while under EEG monitoring. Two of the patients showed an increase in heart rate along with a surge of gamma wave activity, considered the fastest brain activity and associated with consciousness.

Researchers also identified a surge of gamma wave activity, associated with consciousness, in the dying brains of comatose patients. The activity was detected in a neural hotspot associated with dreaming and altered states of consciousness.

The rationale goes like this: The brain and all the structures it supplies need oxygen to function (the brain accounts for 20% of all oxygen used in the body). Once the blood vessels in the neck are severed, the oxygen supply is halted. Whatever oxygen remains in the blood and tissues after the fatal blow would certainly be there for use, but it wouldn’t last long.

Movement would only be possible in tissue or structures still attached to the head, such as muscles for moving the eyes or the mouth because the nerves supplying those muscles would still be connected.

Queen Anne is not the only anecdote here.

In 1793, there was a woman named Charlotte Corday, who killed a person named Jean-Paul Marat. Charlotte was executed by guillotine. A man named Francois le Gros allegedly lifted her head and slapped both cheeks. Onlookers claimed that Corday’s face took on an angry expression and her cheeks became flushed, as though she was mad for being slapped.

So, the next time you see a guillotine decapitation, know that the head might just still be alive a few seconds later.

And if YOU are the unlucky one, you might just hear your own head hit the basket!

Here are some interesting things you didn’t know about the guillotine.

Share This: