Neck Verse - Refers to the first lines of a Latin version of the 51st psalm formerly set before an accused person claiming benefit of clergy so that the person might vindicate his claim by an intelligent reading aloud of the verse before examiner.
This verse was so called because it was the trial-verse of those who claimed benefit of clergy; and if they could read it, the ordinary of Newgate said, “Legit ut clericus, ” and the convict saved his neck, being only burnt in the hand and set at liberty.
The Latin sentence, “Miserere mei, Deus,” was so called, because the reading of it was made a test for those who claimed benefit of clergy.
(Psalm 51.1). Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy lovingkindness: according unto the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions.
Also known as the Miserere:
Miserere mei, Deus: secundum magnam misericordiam tuam.
Et secundum multitudinem miserationum tuarum, dele iniquitatem meam.
If a clerk had been taken
For stealing of bacon.
For burglary, murder, or rape.
If he could but rehearse
(Well prompt) his neck-verse,
He never could fail to escape.
British Apollo (1710).