Archive for November, 2009

1803: Johannes Bückler, “Schinderhannes”

5 comments November 21st, 2009 Headsman

On this date in 1803, the famous German bandit “Schinderhannes” and 19 others of his gang were efficiently guillotined in French-occupied Rhineland.

Schinderhannes with mistress Juliana Blasius and their child.

As low-born as they come, Johannes Bückler (English Wikipedia link | German) hailed from a family of executioners and knackers (his appellation means “John the Knacker”).

But this outcast was born to command, and in the wild Rhineland at the close of the 18th century, his audacity, charisma, and deft cruelty made him a legendary bandit king.

He stole, he blackmailed, he slipped his fetters … “he seemed to contest French authority” recently projected by the revolutionary citizen-army, and he preyed heavily on unpopular Jewish merchants, all of which gave Bückler purchase on folk hero status with the boldness to hold a public “robber’s ball” at the ruined castle his band occupied.

His legend grew in his own lifetime, and as such things do, it inflated quite past any capacity of its originator’s character to support.

When things got too hot on the French side of the Rhine, he ducked over the frontier to the Holy Roman Empire in the east, but was nabbed attempting to lay low in the imperial army under an assumed name, and handed back to the French.

The authorities turned his outlaw gallantry to good effect (or at least, that’s the cover story his apologists have made for his stool pigeoning) by threatening to come down on the mistress who bore him a child, leading Schinderhannes to get her off with a slap on the wrist by giving up his bandit brethren.

And with French law came French execution technology, whose proliferation in the train of Napoleon’s Grande Armee would bequeath the German condemned death by the “falling axe” down to Hitler’s time and even after.

A spectacle here as it was in France, tens of thousands turned up in Mainz this date in 1803 for what sounds like an anticlimactic six-minute show of a score of Schinderhannes’ gang losing their heads to the mechanical contraption.

Scottish scribbler Leitch Ritchie helped convey to posterity the legend with Schinderhannes, the robber of the Rhine, which romantically celebrates a knave who must have been less lovable to those who knew him from the business end of his blade. These, nevertheless, are all long gone, and Ritchie has the authority of historical mythologizing to vindicate his text’s last eulogy with its hero’s foot upon the scaffold:

The bandit-chief preserved his intrepidity to the last, and left to other times, unsullied by many of the basenesses of his tribe, the name of SCHINDERHANNES, THE ROBBER OF THE RHINE.

He sure did. From the practically mandatory ballad …

… to the stage …

… to the screen

… to vicious-looking Cambrian anomalocarid Schinderhannes bartelsi

… the outlaw has long outlived his guillotining, to the profit of the tourist trade in his former stomping-grounds.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/20973106@N08/ / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Famous,France,Germany,Guillotine,History,Mass Executions,Murder,Occupation and Colonialism,Organized Crime,Outlaws,Pelf,Popular Culture,Public Executions,Theft

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1676: Johan Johansson Griis, the Gävle Boy

4 comments November 20th, 2009 Headsman

On an uncertain date in November 1676, the Gävle Boy paid the penalty for his elders’ credulity.

Only 13 years old at his death, he’d spent the foregoing months as the star witness in Stockholm’s witch trials. Like the hysteria itself, he’d migrated to the capital from the provinces; it’s said that in his native town of Gävle, he’d orphaned himself with a witchcraft accusation against his own mother.

Sent off by relatives to live in Stockholm, young Johann Johansson Griis (or Grijs) found his previous evidence made him an expert courtroom authority on the infernal arts; driven by some blend of blandishments and cajolery sufficient to stimulate the youthful imagination’s potent capacity for blending fancy insensibly with fact, Griis was in no time at all sending fresh victims to the scaffold with his freaky stories about Blåkulla.

Dracula‘s soul brother, deadlier even than he …”

No, Blåkulla, a sort brunch buffet for Swedish sorcerors.

Hard to imagine this kid and a few others like him were given carte blanche to destroy people’s lives with increasingly ludicrous Satanic abuse stories.

When authorities reined in the witch hysteria, it wasn’t the authorities who were going to end up with a hemp necktie for structuring and managing a legal system that allowed a gaggle of impressionable adolescents to railroad innocent people. No, it was the adolescents themselves who would pay the penalty for the perjury that they had so recently been solicited to provide. And of course, when pressured by the Man to cop to lying about everything, Gävle Boy did exactly that.

“A vicious and mendacious rascal,” is how our short-lived character was being described by the time he got his comeuppance. (Quote from this detailed Swedish paper about the witch hunts.)

Well, maybe. He wouldn’t exactly be the first callow, naughty adolescent. But give the Swedes this much: after they hanged the Gävle Boy (and some fellow youths with tall tales to tell), they stopped executing witches. Only one more person would ever again die for the “crime” in the country’s history.

Johan’s namesake town would prefer you remember a different Yuletime tradition, the Gävle Goat.

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Entry Filed under: 17th Century,Capital Punishment,Children,Cycle of Violence,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,History,Notable for their Victims,Public Executions,Sweden,The Worm Turns,Uncertain Dates

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2002: Craig Neil Ogan, drug war informant

1 comment November 19th, 2009 David Carson

(Thanks to David Carson of the informative Texas Execution Information Center for the guest post, originally run on his site. -ed.)

Craig Neil Ogan, 47, was executed by lethal injection on 19 November 2002 in Huntsville, Texas for the murder of a police officer.

Mugshot clipped from Texas Department of Criminal Justice. More information, including some of Ogan’s own writing, at the Clark County Prosecutor site.

Craig Ogan had worked as an informant for the federal Drug Enforcement Agency since January 1988. Upon his request, the DEA relocated him from St. Louis to Houston in late 1989 after his identity had been revealed in a court proceeding. Ogan was under orders to not personally get involved in any drug transactions. He was also prohibited from carrying a weapon. Despite these instructions, Ogan insisted on arming himself and seeking involvement in drug transactions.

On 8 December 1989, Ogan, then 34, called the DEA agent who supervised him and told him that he was in a restaurant where he had just had an armed confrontation over a drug deal that fell through. He said that a man pointed a gun at his head and called him “narc.” He said that he feared for his life and asked for an escort from the restaurant. The agent arranged for two Houston police officers to escort Ogan from the restaurant back to his apartment. Once at the apartment, the officers watched as Ogan packed his belongings, which included a pistol, a sawed-off shotgun, and some knives. They then followed him to a motel. Ogan checked into a room, and the officers left at around 9:00 p.m.

At about 12:30 a.m., Ogan went to the lobby to complain about his telephone charges and the heater in his room. He argued loudly with the clerk and began kicking at a door. When the clerk called 9-1-1 for assistance, Ogan left.

Around this time, Houston police officers Clay Morgan Gainer and James C. Boswell pulled a car into a parking lot across the street from the motel, for a minor traffic violation. Ogan, then 34, walked over to them and knocked on the passenger window. Officer Boswell, 29, lowered his window and asked Ogan what he wanted. After a heated exchange, Boswell got out of the car. Ogan took Boswell’s pistol and shot him once in the head. He ran. Officer Gainer chased Ogan on foot, shot him in the back, and arrested him.

At Ogan’s trial, Gainer testified that when Boswell lowered his window and asked Ogan what he wanted, Ogan replied, “DEA dropped me off out here, and I’m cold.” Boswell told Ogan that they would help him as soon as they finished with the traffic stop, and to back away from the car. Boswell then raised his window. Ogan, however, demanded immediate attention. He knocked on Boswell’s window again, repeating that he was a DEA informant and that he was cold. Boswell told him, “You need to get out of here if you are not willing to step out of the way and wait. You either need to leave, or you are going to jail.” Ogan persisted with his demands. Boswell got out of the police car. According to Gainer, Boswell removed his sidearm from the holster and held it down against his leg. As he was reaching into the car to unlock the back door, Ogan grabbed Boswell’s gun and shot him once in the head. Ogan then said, “Well, [expletive] you then” and ran.

In addition to the above testimony, Darryl O’Leary, one of the two officers who escorted Ogan from the restaurant, testified that Ogan was “extremely excited” when he arrived. O’Leary said that when he told Ogan he could not take him until a backup officer arrived, Ogan became “impatient, hostile, and loud.”

Ogan had no prior criminal convictions. He had numerous assault charges that had been filed against him, then dismissed.

Sally Webster, a psychologist testifying for the defense, said that Ogan suffered from paranoia and had a passive-aggressive personality, but that these disorders were not mental illnesses and had no bearing on his competency to stand trial. She described Ogan’s mental state on 8 and 9 December as “anxious, agitated, almost hyperactive, very touchy, very worried.” Ogan’s lawyers called Webster to testify in an attempt to assert his mental state as a mitigating factor in determining his punishment, but the tactic backfired. Instead, prosecutors convinced the jury that Ogan’s history of high-strung paranoia made him a future danger to society.

A jury convicted Ogan of capital murder in June 1990 and sentenced him to death. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed the conviction and sentence in April 1993. All of his subsequent appeals in state and federal court were denied.

In his appeals, Ogan’s attorneys claimed that their client suffered from a mental illness and that his trial counsel was incompetent for failing to use that in his defense. Ogan, who had an IQ of 140, had attended college, and spoke several languages, told a reporter, “They’re trying to sell me as a nut case. I don’t appreciate that.”

Ogan had a longstanding interest in espionage and had ambitions of joining the Central Intelligence Agency. In one of his letters from death row, he claimed that he had an appointment for an interview with the CIA the day he killed Officer Boswell. His career as a spy, however, never took off. At his trial, DEA agents testified that they considered Ogan to be, though a “marginally successful” informant, mostly a comical figure who ducked behind newspapers whenever a stranger entered their office. They derisively called him “special agent double-oh-five” behind his back. They also criticized him for getting involved in a drug deal without their permission, then calling for their assistance when it got him into trouble.

From death row, Ogan wrote letters that were posted on an anti-death-penalty web site. In one of them, he claimed that his execution represented the “premeditated mass murder” of possibly thousands of his potential descendants. He also provided his version of the conversation between himself and Officer Boswell. In Ogan’s account, he was extremely polite, courteous to a fault, and non-confrontational. Boswell and Gainer, on the other hand, were hostile to him without provocation and called him a “[expletive] DEA snitch.” Ogan wrote that when he told Boswell, “All right, sir; I was only asking for help,” Boswell then threw his door open and burst out of the car “in an insane rage, running/lunging furiously right at me, like a football tackle gone berserk, and clawing frantically at his gun/holster.”

An anti-death-penalty spokesman who visited Ogan on death row described him as “extremely tense.”

Ogan’s execution was delayed for nearly an hour as the Supreme Court considered late appeals questioning his mental competence.

“I would like to say first of all the real violent crimes in this case are acts committed by James Boswell and Clay Morgan Gaines,” Ogan said in his lengthy last statement. “I am not guilty; I acted in self-defense and reflex in the face of a police officer who was out of control,” he said. Ogan referred to a head injury Boswell had suffered and suggested that he had mental problems. He described Boswell as “filled with anger” and “mad at the world.” The lethal injection was given while Ogan was two minutes into his last statement. At 7:05 p.m., he was still talking about Boswell when he paused briefly to collect his thoughts. The lethal drugs took effect as Ogan then snorted, gasped, and lost consciousness. He was pronounced dead at 7:13 p.m.

By David Carson. Originally posted on 20 November 2002. Revised on 5 December 2002.
Sources: Texas Department of Criminal Justice, Texas Attorney General’s office, U.S. Fifth Circuit Court documents, Associated Press, Houston Chronicle, letters from Craig Ogan.

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Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Lethal Injection,Murder,Spies,Texas,USA

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1864: Hong Tianguifu, in the Taiping Rebellion

8 comments November 18th, 2009 Headsman

On this date in 1864, the sins of the father were visited upon the son when the Qing Dynasty dealt a coup de grace in what is perhaps history’s bloodiest civil war, executing the luckless teenager to whom leadership of the Taiping Rebellion had fallen.

Strangely little-known, the Taiping Rebellion shook the weakened Chinese state through the middle of the 19th century, nearly to its very foundations.

From 1851 until the 1864 death of its queer leader figure, prophetic Christian convert Hong Xiuquan, it maintained its own state in southern China, the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom.

Also of interest: Google freebies from the 19th century. Ti-ping tien-kwoh: the history of the Ti-ping revolution and History of the insurrection in China: with notices of the Christianity, creed, and proclamations of the insurgents.

China’s defeat in the First Opium War in the 1840’s set the stage for Hong Xiuquan’s movement, and not only geopolitically: western powers had pried open the Orient to proselytizers as well as poppies, and though Christianity would find a rough go of it in China, it did win over Hong.

Fired by his supposed divine vision, Hong’s Heavenly Kingdom conquered the Yangtze Valley and much of the south, with an outlook radically progressive as against the hidebound Qing: egalitarian land distribution and gender equity (the Kingdom’s administrative acumen is less generously accounted). Naturally, the “real” Christian missionaries abhorred it, which sincere theology happily comported with the policy of their national statesmen who abhorred the Taiping’s encumbrance upon the opium trade.

This illustrated podcast does creditable coverage of the Qing’s twilight century; from about 14:17, it covers Hong Xiuquan and the Taiping Rebellion specifically.

The rebellion waxed while the Qing lost a second Opium War to the west, but a Taiping bid to capture Shanghai fell short in 1860. By this time, westerners had the Qing by the short-and-curlies and were not eager to see the client dynasty they had so painstakingly browbeaten supplanted by a bunch of millenarian Levellers without the common courtesy to promulgate smack; accordingly, China’s recent Opium War antagonists now helped China field the forces necessary to suppress the rebellion.

Charles George Gordon, a British evangelical Christian himself destined for eventual beheading, even led the pacification force swaggeringly branded the “Ever Victorious Army“.

We’ve reached the end here and only just met our day’s principal, the son and heir who at 15 was handed the helm of the collapsing state by his visionary father. (Hong Xiuquan conveniently proceeded to kick the bucket just before the Qing finished off the rebellion.)

Officially the second (and obviously the last) ruler of the Heavenly Kingdom, Hong Tianguifu had no juice with his military or administration, and no time to enjoy the more prosaic perquisites of regal authority, but was available as the object of official vengeance. (Thanks, dad.)


Less exalted Taiping Rebellion prisoners, from here (click through the pages for a detailed history of the rebellion).

The Taiping Rebellion features in the 2007 Chinese flick Tau ming chong (The Warlods), which represents a Qing-Taiping battle in the fine cinematic bloodbath below. Some 20 to 30 million people are thought to have perished in this civil war, which was also one of the last significant conflicts fought primarily with blades rather than bullets.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Children,China,Cycle of Violence,Death Penalty,Execution,God,Heads of State,History,Occupation and Colonialism,Power,Religious Figures,Revolutionaries,Royalty,Treason,Wartime Executions

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1909: Leonard Groce and Lee Roy Cannon, American mercenaries in Nicaragua

3 comments November 17th, 2009 Headsman

In few countries is it possible to trace the development of anti-American sentiment as clearly as in Nicaragua. A century of trouble between the two nations, which led to the death of thousands and great suffering for generations of Nicaraguans, began when the United States deposed President Zelaya in 1909. Benjamin Zeledon [Spanish link -ed.] took up arms to avenge him. Zeledon’s death inspired the young Sandino, who, in turn, inspired the modern Sandinista Front.

For all his faults, Zelaya was the greatest statesman Nicaragua ever produced. If the United States had found a way to deal with him, it might have avoided the disasters that followed. Instead, it crushed a leader who embraced capitalist principles more fully than any other Central American of his era.

-Steven Kinzer, Overthrow: America’s Century of Regime Change from Hawaii to Iraq

It was a century ago today* that the execution of two American soldiers of fortune set all that strife in motion.

Leonard Groce, a mining supervisor, and Lee Roy Cannon, a rubber planter, were among those hired out by the U.S.-backed rebellion of Juan Jose Estrada. Dictatorial Nicaraguan President Jose Santos Zelaya — no known relationship to his namesake bookend at the other end of that century, the recently deposed leftist Honduran President Manuel Zelaya — had earned Washington’s ire by attempting to carve out an excessively independent sphere of action for his country. Most notably, he courted European investment, and mooted funding a possible Nicaraguan competitor to the U.S.-controlled Panama Canal.

Though the Estrada insurrection was spinning its wheels militarily, Groce and Cannon would give it legs diplomatically, and afford the Yankees sufficient pretext to overthrow Zelaya directly.

These two U.S. nationals were caught mining the San Juan River in an admitted attempt to sink a Nicaraguan troop transport, and shot in El Castillo a few days later. (Here‘s Groce’s final letter to his mum — a Spanish translation; I have not been able to find the English original.)

When word reached U.S. Secretary of State Philander Knox about the shootings, he “saw an opportunity to intervene directly.”**

Knox dashed off a bellicose note to the Nicaraguan charge d’affaires calling his

regime … a blot upon the history of Nicaragua …

From every point of view it has evidently become difficult for the United States further to delay more active response to the appeals so long made, to its duty to its citizens, to its dignity, to Central America, and to civilization.

The Government of the United States is convinced that the revolution represents the ideals and the will of a majority of the Nicaraguan people more faithfully than does the Government of President Zelaya.

“Then,” says Steven Kinzer, “he issued an official legal opinion holding that because Estrada’s rebellion had given his men the ‘stature’ of belligerents, Cannon and Groce had been entitled to prisoner-of-war status. That made Zelaya a war criminal.”

Maybe Zelaya mistook the foreign bombers for “unlawful combatants.”


Groce and Cannon temporarily became a media cause celebre in the U.S. This article is from the Nov. 21, 1909 edition of the Salt Lake Herald-Republican.

By late December, with marines† landing, Zelaya bowed to the inevitable and resigned, and Nicaragua began a generation under more-or-less overt U.S. control.

That terrible miscalculation drew the United States into a century of interventions in Nicaragua. They took a heavy toll in blood and treasure, profoundly damaged America’s image in the world, and helped keep generations of Nicaraguans in misery. Nicaragua still competes with Haiti to lead the Western Hemisphere in much that is undesirable, including rates of poverty, unemployment, infant mortality, and deaths from curable diseases.

Kinzer

There’s more coverage of this episode and America’s early 20th century Nicaraguan policy in The Banana Men: American Mercenaries and Entrepreneurs in Central America, 1880-1930 and Beneath the United States: A History of U.S. Policy toward Latin America.

* A few sources give the date as the 16th, and the situation was confused and uncertain enough on the ground that early press reports elide the execution date altogether. The 17th tracks with The Banana Men, Overthrow, and the U.S. diplomatic correspondence.

** Knox, a plutocrats’ attorney from Pennsylvania and certifiable bastard, was also personally connected with Pittsburgh-based mining interests Zelaya was threatening to expropriate. Groce worked for the firm.

† Marine Corps Major (later General) Smedley Butler mounted three different expeditions to Nicaragua during the civil war following Zelaya’s departure. He would later remember of his service in America’s southerly “Banana Wars” interventions, “I spent most of my time being a high class muscle-man for Big Business, for Wall Street and for the Bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism.”

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Cycle of Violence,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Mercenaries,Nicaragua,Occupation and Colonialism,Revolutionaries,Shot,Soldiers,Terrorists,USA,Wartime Executions

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1885: Louis Riel, Metis leader

3 comments November 16th, 2009 Headsman

On this date in 1885, Louis Riel, “the puzzling Messianic figure of Canadian history,” was hanged in Regina for treason.

We have already met in these pages the magnetic, controversial figure of Louis Riel when his Red River Rebellion caused the 1870 execution of Thomas Scott, one of the soldiers sent to suppress it.

Now, after a decade and a half in the political and sometimes literal wilderness, the champion of the Métis had been recalled from the United States to press the rights of his mixed-race French-indigenous people against the Anglo Canadians’ westward march.

It was North America’s familiar clash of civilizations between expanding industrial economies and the traditional ways of life they displaced. (Here’s a good background documentary video, with a Part 2 that gets into the weeds on battlefield events.) Because the Metis were “half-breeds” whose European stock was French, the story’s familiar cocktail of racism had a twist of Canada’s Anglo-French rivalry, too.

Riel declared an independent Provisional Government of Saskatchewan, and the North-West Rebellion was on.

The rebels had some initial successes. But hampered by an inability to make a firm alliance with the more politically realistic Cree, by the non-support of the Catholic Church in view of Riel’s increasingly out-there millenarianism, and by the extension of technological superiority another 15 years’ railroad-building had given the Ottawa government, Riel’s forces soon gave way.

The lightning-rod leader was arrested and repaired to the provincial capital for trial, where he spurned his lawyers’ desperation attempt to plead insanity and cogently vindicated his position.

“Life, without the dignity of an intelligent being, is not worth having.”
Riel

For a man twice a rebel, the hanging sentence was no surprise. Later, juror Edwin Brooks would tell a newspaper “We [the jury] tried Louis Riel for treason but he was hanged for the murder of Thomas Scott.” (Source, via this pdf handbook all about the Metis.)

His hanging was met with outrage in Francophone Quebec, and Louis Riel remains a polarizing figure down to the present day — an emblem of multiple overlapping cultural conflicts never fully resolved. The upcoming year’s 125th anniversary of events profiled here promise a renewed examination of Louis Riel (or at least of his tourism potential).

Below are a few more-or-less obtainable recent books about Riel and the North-West Rebellion, culled from this pdf reading list. Also note the public-domain volume The history of the North-west rebellion of 1885.

Recent considerations of Louis Riel and the North-West Rebellion

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Activists,Canada,Capital Punishment,Cycle of Violence,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Famous,Hanged,Heads of State,History,Martyrs,Occupation and Colonialism,Politicians,Popular Culture,Power,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Religious Figures,Revolutionaries,Separatists,Treason

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1539: Richard Whiting, the last Abbot of Glastonbury

9 comments November 15th, 2009 Headsman

Letter to Thomas Cromwell from his man in Somerset,* Richard Pollard, a local gentry type making out well under the Dissolution of the Monasteries:

Pleaseth it your lordship to be advertised, that … the same 15th day [of November] the late abbot of Glastonbury went from Wells to Glastonbury, and there was drawn through the town upon a hurdle to the hill called the Torre, where he was put to execution; at which time he asked God mercy and the king for his great offences towards his highness, and also desired my servants then being there present to see the execution done, that they would be meane [communicate] to my lord president and to me that we should desire the king’s highness of his merciful goodness and in the way of charity to forgive him his great offences by him committed and done against his grace, and thereupon took his death very patiently, and his head and body bestowed in like manner as I certified your lordship in my last letter. And likewise the other two monks [John Thorne and Roger James, executed with Richard Whiting] desired like forgiveness, and took their death very patiently, whose souls God pardon.

And whereas I at my last being with your lordship at London moved your lordship for my brother Paulett, desiring your lordship to be a mean that he might have the surveyorship of Glastonbury, which I doubt not but he will use and exercise the said office to the king’s most profit and advantage, and your lordship’s goodness herein to him to be shown he shall recompense to his little power, I assure your lordship he hath been very diligent, and divers others by his means, to serve the king at this time, according to his duty and right…

the late abbot of Glastonbury, afore his execution, was examined upon divers articles and interrogatories to him ministered by me, but he could accuse no man but himself of any offence against the king’s highness, nor he would confess no more gold nor silver nor any other thing more than he did before your lordship in the Tower …

From Wells, the 16th day of November.

Your assured to command,

Rychard Pollard

Once one of the greatest religious houses in England (and the legendary burial place of King Arthur), Glastonbury Abbey today is a picturesque ruin. Cornell University has published some 19th century photos of the abbey’s remains in a less manicured, more gorgeously overgrown situation.

Pollard had just a few weeks before exonerated the monastery of any profligacy, and the abbot seems perhaps not to have even been properly charged or attainted … but as one can discern in Pollard’s cloying appeal to keep the surveying position in the family, the practical henchman had no qualms as events unfolded about taking a commercial position on the end of the Abbot of Glastonbury.

For your public domain perusing pleasure: The last abbot of Glastonbury: and other essays, by Cardinal Francis Aidan Gasquet.

* Pollard had been in the thick of the destruction of Henry Courtenay, Marquess of Exeter just the year before.

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Entry Filed under: 16th Century,20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Death Penalty,Drawn and Quartered,England,Execution,God,Gruesome Methods,Hanged,History,Martyrs,Murder,Notable Participants,Pelf,Power,Public Executions,Religious Figures,Treason,Wrongful Executions

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1726: The Gypsy outlaws of Hesse-Darmstadt

Add comment November 14th, 2009 Headsman

On November 14 and 15, 1726, more than 20 Gypsy outlaws of Hesse-Darmstadt were executed en masse.

Detail view (click for full image) of the execution of the Gypsies at Giessen.

Gypsies in Europe still suffer ample discrimination today, so it’s little surprise to find early modern Europe thick with anti-Gypsy legislation.

No surprise, Angus Fraser writes in The Gypsies, this sort of thing

did in the end produce enormous changes in the life of the Gypsies in Europe. To survive, they had to adapt; they also had to make the most of the loopholes in a system which expressly sought, by denying them food and shelter, to make honest living impossible. Some found a degree of security in inaccessible waste-lands and forests. Some exploited differences in jurisdiction and the spasmodic nature of the authorities’ activity, by making a home in frontier regions … Many broke up into small groups when it was necessary to avoid attention; conversely, others gathered into larger bands to facilitate self-protection … sometimes resorting to violence. Certain Gypsy brigands gained notoriety in eighteenth-century Germany, large tracts of which were overrun with robber companies of mixed and varying origins. Some of these had a strong Gypsy element: numbering perhaps 50 or 100, armed and defiant, they stole for their sustenance and skirmished with the soldier-police sent to confine them.

“The poor Gypsies,” one poor Gypsy lamented to a contemporary German author,* “also want to have the right to live.”

Like the Gypsies’ other necessities, that right went as far as they themselves could secure it … and when secured by brigandage, it eventually brought down an overwhelming response.

The German author in question, J.B. Weissenbruch, relates the tale of a particularly notorious pack of Gypsy outlaws under the leadership of rough characters names of Antoine la Grave, aka “der Grosse Galantho” or “the Great Gallant”, and Johannes la Fortun, aka “Hemperla”.

These were no romantic Johnny Depp-esque Gypsies, at least according to Weissenbruch. Besides “their disposition to wandering, to idleness, to theft, to polygamy, or rather promiscuous license” — well, okay, sort of romantic — these went toe to toe with soldiery dispatched to corral them and had the chops to “take military possession” of a village for the purpose of exacting some corporal revenge.

We know where this ends up.

Though the Great Gallant escaped punishment,† Hemperla and 20-plus of his band (different sources quote slightly different figures) enjoyed the pleasures of the thumbscrew and the Spanish boot to secure confessions necessary to license their sentences. Some were hanged, others (including women) beheaded, and Hemperla and a few comrades were broken on the wheel.

* Cited here; regrettably, I have not been able to locate a browsable original of the Weissenbruch text.

** Same story in yet another Google books freebie.

This German book says his rank got him off the hook, but he lost his head just the same in 1733.

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Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Beheaded,Broken on the Wheel,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Cycle of Violence,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Germany,Gruesome Methods,Hanged,History,Holy Roman Empire,Mass Executions,Outlaws,Public Executions,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Theft,Torture,Women

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1534: Barthélemi Milon, for the Affair of the Placards

3 comments November 13th, 2009 Headsman

On this date* in 1534, a crippled shoemaker’s son went to the stake … the harbinger of many a pyre that would swallow many a French soul in the internecine struggle over religion that lay ahead.

A relatively chilled-out start to the Protestant Reformation under the tolerant King Francis I had the moderate reformers thinking go-along, get-along.

But churchbound Frenchmen and -women on Sunday, Oct. 18 in Paris and a number of towns around France found that someone had engineered the simultaneous posting of incendiary anti-Catholic placards denouncing the “idolatrous rite” of mass. In an ominous breach of security, one was even left outside the monarch’s own bedchamber.

The Affaire des Placards was a public relations master stroke by any standard … and it got Catholic France up in arms against the heretics in its midst. Overnight, every evangelical had become a terrorist.

[R]umors spread like wildfire throughout the city. Some said that the heretics were going to burn down the churches and massacre the faithful during mass; others that the Louvre would be sacked. Foreigners, especially those who spoke German, were targeted by frightened Parisians, and a Flemish merchant was lynched by a mob.

Many with the means and the prudence fled; it was this event drove John Calvin from Paris to Switzerland, there to root out heresies of his own.

Those that stayed saw several of their number burn.

Milon (didactic French link), paralyzed from the waist down, was the first. He had been found with the treasonable poster in his possession.

As the martyrology filled in the years ahead and France hurtled towards the Wars of Religion that would shape the 16th century, the Affair of the Placards in retrospect came to mark** a decisive turning point for the House of Valois towards an ultimately self-defeating violent repression of Protestantism.

This affair in the context of its time is treated in the free (and Protestant) History of the rise of the Huguenots of France.

* Some sources (this one French) give November 12 as Milon’s execution date.

** Perhaps somewhat glibly; the state’s wavering policies on the day’s religious conflict tracked the everyday vicissitudes of statecraft — competing factions in the court; competing geopolitical priorities abroad.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 16th Century,Burned,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,France,God,Heresy,History,Innocent Bystanders,Public Executions

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1679: The hot-blooded Lady Christian Nimmo

1 comment November 12th, 2009 Headsman

On this date in 1679, a spurned lover laid her head on the block in Edinburgh and began her career as a spook.

Decadent widower James Forrester (or Forester), having run through his cash, was marking his time at the pub and in the arms of Lady Christian Nimmo.

She was a great deal younger than himself, and a niece of his first wife’s. This near relationship greatly increased the scandal, which was aggravated by Lord Forester having always professed to be a religious man, and a rigid Presbyterian. [Edinburgh’s rigid Presbyterians had a recurring misconduct problem. -ed.] Mrs. Nimmo, besides being a very beautiful woman, was of a violent and impulsive nature. She was believed always to carry a sword under her petticoats, and so was not a person to be treated lightly, especially by those who reflected what blood ran in her veins, — Mrs. Bedford, who had murdered her husband a few years before, being her cousin-german. She was also related to the unhappy Lady Warriston, who suffered death for the same crime in 1600. Lord Forester’s passion for her appears to have cooled; and, shutting his eyes to possible consequences, he permitted himself in one of his carouses to speak more than lightly of her. This came to her ears, and, seized with fury, she went at once to his castle at Corstorphine … a violent altercation took place between them. In the midst of it, she snatched the sword from his side, ran him through the body, and killed him.

… She confessed her crime, but pleaded that Lord Forester, being ferocious and intoxicated with drink, had drawn his sword; that, to save herself, she had snatched it from him, and that in the struggle he had fallen upon it, and so killed himself. In spite of this defence, sentence of death was passed upon her … [she was] beheaded at the Market Cross on the 12th November 1679. At her execution she appeared dressed in deep mourning, with a long veil, which, before laying her head on the block, she took off, and replaced with a white taffeta hood. She met her fate with great courage. It was said at the time that, in spite of his professed Presbyterianism, a dispensation from the Pope to marry Mrs. Nimmo was found among Lord Forester’s papers, and that his delay in using it had caused her fury. (Source)

An apparition known as “the white lady” is supposed to haunt the site of the murder with a melodramatic bloody sword.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 17th Century,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Murder,Nobility,Popular Culture,Public Executions,Scotland,Sex,The Supernatural,Women

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