During the reign of Oliver Cromwell, Catholic worship is forbidden on pain of death. Three soldiers are arrested as Catholics and condemned to die. Cromwell decides to spare two of them and to determine which should die by chance. The guards bring the first child they meet. Whichever soldier she gives the 'death disc' to shall die. Cromwell is charmed by the girl and gives her his signet ring. By chance the child is the daughter of one of the soldiers and gives the death disc to her father, because she thinks it's pretty. The child is returned home to her mother, who learns of her husband's pending execution and of the power of the ring. She rushes to the place of execution and saves her husband by producing the ring.
Did You Know?
Mark Twain's "Death Disk" was inspired by the historical account of the execution of Col. John Poyer of Pembroke, Wales on 21 April 1649. A small child was given the responsibility of choosing which of three rebel leaders of a civil uprising would receive a death penalty. The fate was given to Poyer who was shot in front of a large crowd at Covent Garden. In 1883, Twain read about the child's role in the execution in a copy of Carlyle's Letters and Speeches of Oliver Cromwell, (Wiley & Putnam, 1845, pp. 344-345). In his personal notebook, Twain's imagination led him to remark, "By dramatic accident it could have been his own child" (Notebook #22, reprinted in Mark Twain's Notebooks & Journals, Volume III, 1883-1891, p. 14). In December 1883, Twain wrote his friend William Dean Howells, "Now let's write a tragedy" (Mark Twain-Howells Letters, Volume II, p. 455). In his letter to Howells, he included the manuscript of the closing scene where a young girl unknowingly gives her own father a death sentence. Twain's original version ended in the father's execution. Twain's plan to complete the tragedy went nowhere for over a decade. In December 1899 he wrote from London to Katharine Harrison that he had recently completed "The Death Disk." Twain had revised the story and it now included a miraculous ending well-suited for the Christmas season. It was published in the 1901 Christmas issue of Harper's Magazine. On 8 February 1902, the story was staged as a one-act play at the Children's Theatre at Carnegie Hall. According to an announcement in The New York Times, 7 February 1902, child actress Beatrice Abbey (stage name of Mrs. Ethel Foster Hollearn) would star in the lead role in the play titled "Little Lady and Lord Cromwell." Twain had struggled with writing the story. He attempted no less than 6 drafts of the story before accepting the advice of British publisher Robert McClure to simply write it as he'd told the tale in person. See more