Archive for April, 2010

2004: Abdullah Shah, Zardad’s dog

Add comment April 20th, 2010 Headsman

On this date in 2004, an Afghanistan liberated from the Taliban enjoyed its first freedom-execution: the secret shooting for various war atrocities of Abdullah Shah.

Shah worked for Afghan warload Zardad Khan during the early 1990s civil war that brought the Taliban to power.

And by “worked for,” we mean that Zardad kept Shah chained up in a cave, and used him to bite his prisoners and (!) devour their testicles.

Michael Vick, eat your balls out.

“Zardad’s Dog” — the guy’s nickname, as well as the title of a short film made about his case, which was also the first capital prosecution in post-Taliban Afghanistan — was well-qualified for his bestial career.

Implicated in possibly hundreds of deaths, his 20 murder convictions included three of his wives (another of his wives, whom Shah tried to burn to death, testified against him) and five of his own children.

“The president felt compelled by the need to ensure justice to the victims,” a Karzai spokesman said. “Especially in view of the nature of the crimes he [Abdullah Shah] committed.” So compelled was he that the government only publicly declared the execution a week later.

Skeptical observers have noted that Karzai might have also felt this particular “need to ensure justice to the victims” in a case where the condemned had the goods on some of the top men in Karzai’s own government, who resided further up Shah’s own chain of command.

Amnesty International considered his case rife with other irregularities. Kabul temporarily suspended judicial executions thereafter; the country would not carry out another execution until 2007 (pdf).

Shah’s eponymous boss, Zardad, slipped into England on asylum. A year after his “dog’s” execution, Zardad drew a 20-year sentence at the Old Bailey for various acts of torture and summary execution during Afghanistan’s civil war.

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Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Afghanistan,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Milestones,Murder,Shot,Soldiers,Torture

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1314: Tour de Nesle Affair adulterers

7 comments April 19th, 2010 Headsman

Think you want to fall in love with a princess?

On this date in 1314, the French crown dissuaded the fantasy by butchering two Norman knights who had sheathed their swords where they oughtn’t.

In the Tour de Nesle affair (English Wikipedia page | French), French princess Isabella — then Queen of England, where she is known as Isabella of France or any number of less-flattering sobriquets — noticed that some purses she had once given her brothers’ wives as gifts were being sported by a couple of (evidently metrosexual) dudes in the court.

Let their fate be a warning against regifting.

In short order, the purse-toting knights Philippe and Gauthier d’Aunay or d’Aulnay (both links are in French) were arrested for tapping, respectively: Margaret of Burgundy (the wife of the king’s eldest son, Louis, soon to become Louis X); and, Blanche of Burgundy (the wife of the king’s third son, Charles, the future king Charles IV).*

“The pious confidence of the middle age, which did not mistrust the immuring of a great lady along with her knights in the precincts of a castle, of a narrow tower — the vassalage which imposed on young men as a feudal duty the sweetest cares, was a dangerous trial for human nature, when the ties of religion were weakened.”

Jules Michelet

Under torture, the knights copped to the cuckoldry, supposed to have been conducted in the Tour de Nesle, a since-destroyed guard tower on the Seine.**


Detail view (click to see larger image) of the dilapidated Tour de Nesle, as sketched in the 17th century by Jacques Callot. The tower was destroyed in 1665.

The knights suffered horrific deaths:

“deux jeunes et biaux chevaliers furents roués vifs, écorchés vifs , émasculés, épendus de plomb soufré en ébullition, puis décapités, traînés à travers rues, et pendus au gibet y pourrissant durant des semaines. Leurs sexes, instruments du crime, sont jetés aux chiens. Jamais corps n’auront autant souffert.”

In fine: flayed, broken on the wheel, burned with hot lead and sulfur, genitals thrown to the dogs, and then decapitated for ignominious gibbeting on Montfaucon.

The women fared only a little better. Neither faced execution, and in fact both would technically become Queens of France. But they “reigned” as such from prison.

Margaret of Burgundy was clapped in a tower in a room exposed to the elements while her estranged husband became king. She succumbed (or possibly was murdered outright to clear the way for a new wife) in 1315.

Blanche of Burgundy was still in wedlock and still locked up in Chateau-Gaillard when her husband ascended the throne early in 1322; the marriage was annulled a few months later, and Blanche lived out her last few years at a nunnery.

Isabella’s role in all of this as the goody-two-shoes informer upon the adulterers looks particularly ironic with benefit of hindsight. In another 12 years’ time, this Queen of England and an adulterous lover combined to overthrow the King of England.

But maybe not so ironic after all, if one takes her for a power-thirsty “she-wolf”.

This Tour de Nesle scandal also happened to cast doubt on the paternity of Margaret’s only daughter Joan, which mitigated against Joan (and potentially in favor of Isabella’s new son, Edward) for eventual claim to the throne of France. Since this potential succession was not evidently imminent, and Isabella had three brothers in the prime of life, this seems a farfetched motivation for tattling. But one is drawn to the question of inheritance since happenstance soon put the royal succession into dispute — a misfortune that helped lead to the Hundred Years’ War when that son, grown up to be Edward III of England, did indeed press his French claims at swordpoint.

(The Tour de Nesle scandal is generally thought now to have been legitimate, on the grounds that the ruling family would not have inflicted such an injury to its own legitimacy without very good cause. However, according to Alison Weir, at least one chronicle blamed the affair on a frame-up by hated royal advisor — and eventual Executed Today client — Enguerrand de Marigny.)

Neither Isabella nor Joan ever ruled France. Joan, however, was an ancestor of Henri IV.

* The wife of the middle son, Philip, was also accused of knowing about the affairs, but her strong defense and her husband’s backing got her off.

** Spectacular embroideries enhanced the legend in later generations, into tales of a royal succubus making her rendezvous in the tower by night, then having her lovers hurled off it at dawn. Alexandre Dumas spun a melodrama from this material, though Frederic Gaillardet accused him of plagiarism. (Dumas gives his side of the story at excrutiating length in his memoirs.) La Tour de Nesle was later made into a movie.

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Entry Filed under: 14th Century,Arts and Literature,Beheaded,Broken on the Wheel,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Flayed,France,Gibbeted,Gruesome Methods,History,Nobility,Power,Public Executions,Scandal,Sex,Torture,Treason

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1860: General Jaime Ortega y Olleta, for a Carlist uprising

Add comment April 18th, 2010 Headsman

This date marks 150 years since the admittedly little distinguished execution of turncoat General Jaime Ortega y Olleta for attempting to aid a Carlist uprising in Spain.

Hoping to exploit the Spanish military’s preoccupation with a conflict in Morocco, the Carlist pretender Infante Carlos and his brother Don Fernando attempted to topple their cousin Queen Isabella II.

They landed at San Carlos de la Rapita (Spanish link) bound for death or glory … or maybe just an “absurd fiasco”.

Ortega (Spanish Wikipedia link), dignified in the Encyclopedia Britannica‘s estimation as a “featherheaded officer”, turned coat to support this ill-fated adventure. Alas for him, none of the men under his command did likewise, nor did the populace.

The rising (more Spanish) collapsed immediately; Ortega was captured, court-martialed on April 17, and shot the following morning. (The New York Times recounts the story of his last hours from the Barcelona papers here.)

General Featherhead was the only casualty.

The would-be monarchs for whom he threw away his life were spared at the price of renouncing their claims, which renunciation they then attempted to renounce once back in exile. For some reason, nobody took them seriously; they died under suspicious circumstances the following year. Their nephew would later lead the last (likewise unsuccessful, but at least less embarrassing) Carlist war in Spain.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Power,Shot,Soldiers,Spain

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1222: An apostate deacon

1 comment April 17th, 2010 Headsman

Thirteenth century England was a dicey place for theological heterodoxy.

On this date in 1222, Archbishop of Canterbury Stephen Langton held at Oxford a provincial council that ordered for immediate execution

an apostate deacon, who for the love of a Jewess had circumcised himself. When he had been degraded he was burnt by the servants of the lord Fawkes.

The story of this nameless and foreskinless deacon — and the link includes several congruent descriptions from primary sources — is sometimes conflated with that of Robert of Reading, another Christian divine who converted in the late 13th century.

Robert’s fate — or Haggai’s, to use the new name he took — seems to be officially unknown, and might have unfolded overseas: Edward I expelled Jews from England in 1290. Nevertheless, the mixed Robert-anonymous deacon story was commemorated with a plaque at Osney Abbey.

Whomever this date’s deacon really was, he wasn’t the only one for whom this council ordained a dreadful end for having the wrong idea about the Almighty.

And there was brought thither into the council an unbelieving youth along with two women, whom the archdeacon of the district accused of the most criminal unbelief, namely that the youth would not enter a church nor be present at the blessed sacraments, nor obey the injunctions of the Catholic Father, but had suffered himself to be crucified, and still bearing in his body the marks of the wounds had been pleased to have himself called Jesus by the aforesaid women. And one of the women, an old woman, was accused of having long been given to incantations and having by her magic arts brought the aforesaid youth to this height of madness. So both being convicted of this gross crime, were condemned to be imprisoned between two walls until they died. But the other woman, who was the youth’s sister, was let go free, for she had revealed the impious deed.

Our source thinks this means life imprisonment rather than being bricked up behind the amontillado. Whatever. It’s not every day we get to use the “immured” tag.

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Entry Filed under: 13th Century,Burned,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Diminished Capacity,Disfavored Minorities,England,Execution,God,Heresy,History,Immured,Jews,Known But To God,Martyrs,Notable Participants,Public Executions,Religious Figures,Starved,Women

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1525: Count Ludwig von Helfenstein

1 comment April 16th, 2010 Melabesq

At the end of the fifteenth and beginning of the sixteenth centuries, conditions for peasants in what is now southern and central Germany were in decline. The cost of goods continued to increase while the ruling aristocracy, who owned the land rented by peasants to grow crops, declined to reduce rents or raise wages

In addition, the territorial sovereigns attempted to increase their income to accommodate the increase in prices by levying additional taxes and tithes on, and increase other obligations owed by, the peasants and serfs under their control.

Simultaneously, changes in the economic market due to increased international trade and industry affected the structure of society, putting into conflict the interests of the aristocracy and the growing merchant class, and giving rise to burghers and industrial workers. Growing awareness of the Reformation and changes in commerce and the social structure also put ecclesiastical society and its lifestyle into conflict with secular interests.

In 1524, a petition known as the Twelve Articles of the Black Forest was presented to the Holy Roman Emperor.

The majority of the Twelve Articles asked for relief from economic hardships, such as the cattle tithes and death tax, and for the preservation of “common” land for use by the peasants. The Emperor ignored the petition, which then became the definitive set of grievances of the lower class. The movement quickly splintered into three factions: Catholics who resisted any challenge to the Church’s supremacy; burghers and princes seeking autonomy from the Church through reforms proposed by Luther; and the lower classes.

Violence soon errupted, as these factions took up arms to preserve, or better, their way of life in an uprising known as the Peasant’s War (1524-1525).

Not surprisingly, sources differ on why the conflict came to a head when it did: the Catholic church blamed the revolting Lutherans; the peasants blamed the aristocracy; and the aristocrats blamed the church. Regardless of the reason, Count von Helfenstein was not in a favorable position.

Count Ludwig von Helfenstein fought against the peasants during this conflict. Occupying the town of Weinsberg on the orders of the Archduke, von Helfenstein freely slew peasants either when discovered in small bands or when they sought admission to the town.

On April 16, in revenge for these killings, an attack led by Florian Geyer and Jacklein Rohrbach (German link) and under the command of George Metzler captured the town and von Helfenstein.

Many aristocrats and knights were killed outright during the fight. Von Helfenstein, however, was forced by vengeful peasants to run (while his wife and child watched) a double gantlet of men with spears drawn.


Helfenstein is led to his messy fate, while his kneeling wife entreats in vain, in this 1844 painting by Gustav Metz. (More, in German.)

Like most peasant revolts, however, it got its licks in and then got crushed. The princes, connected to the Empire, were able to amass greater control over other nobility, while feudalism’s decline was accelerated in favor of commercialism and trade.

(See The Peasants War in Germany, 1525-152, by Ernest Belfort Bax for a florid description of Helfenstein’s end.)

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Entry Filed under: 16th Century,Borderline "Executions",Cycle of Violence,Germany,Gruesome Methods,Guest Writers,History,No Formal Charge,Nobility,Other Voices,Power,Public Executions,Running the Gantlet,Soldiers,The Worm Turns,War Crimes,Wartime Executions

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1925: Fritz Haarmann, Hanover vampire

3 comments April 15th, 2010 Headsman

On this date in 1925, German serial killer Fritz Haarmann dropped his head in a basket in Hanover.

One of the most iconic and most terrifying among Weimar Germany’s ample crop of mass murderers, Haarmann is thought to have slain dozens of boys and young men from 1918 to 1924. (He was charged with 27 murders and convicted in 24 of them; Haarmann himself suggested the true number might be north of 50.)

Such gaudy statistics require teamwork.

This predatory pedophile partnered with one Hans Grans, a younger lover-slash-confederate; together they would lure fresh “game” (Haarmann’s word) for a meal and more.

Everyone dined well — Haarmann especially. Notorious as one of the most prolific “vampire” killers (the press also favored him with this moniker its its search for some epithet equal to the offenses; “werewolf” and “butcher” were also current), Haarmann liked to gnaw through his victims’ throats.

A chilling ditty paid tribute to the unsubstantiated rumor that Haarmann would even butcher the human flesh and sell it as “pork” on the black market. (He was known to trade in black-market meat.)

Just you wait ’til it’s your time,
Haarmann will come after you,
With his chopper, oh so fine,
He’ll make mincemeat out of you.

In the 1931 Fritz Lang classic M, for which Haarmann is one of several influences on the fictional serial killer at the center of the action, this rhyme appears with the name “Haarmann” replaced by “black man”.

Much deeper delves into the mind of this particular madman are to be had here, here and here.

And here:

That accomplice of his, Hans Grans, drew a death sentence too, but Haarmann somehow exculpated him successfully. Not only did Grans get out of prison, the once-notorious homosexual killer lived out the Nazi regime in Hanover un-tortured.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Arts and Literature,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Germany,Guillotine,History,Infamous,Murder,Rape,Serial Killers,Sex

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1965: Perry Smith and Dick Hickock, In Cold Blood subjects

Add comment April 14th, 2010 Headsman

This date in 1965 saw the end of the road (and the end of the rope) for Dick Hickock and Perry Smith, the drifters who slaughtered the Clutter family in Holcomb, Kansas, and inspired Truman Capote’s magnum opus In Cold Blood.


Hickock (left) and Smith.

These ex-cons — Smith, the smart Korean War veteran; Hickock, the fallen high school jock turned small-time hood — got a tip from a fellow jailbird that Herbert Clutter’s farm had a well-stocked safe.

On November 15, 1959, they raided the farm, tied up and shotgunned the family of four, and made off with … 40 bucks. Alas: no safe.

The horrific, out-of-nowhere brutality of the crime — “apparently the work of a psychopathic killer” — made national headlines and drew Manhattanite Truman Capote out to small town Kansas (along with novelist Harper Lee, whom Capote used to gain the confidence of locals).

The killers were caught on the lam in Nevada, and as the case unfolded,* Capote’s sympathy for Smith unlocked a spellbinding book that put this day’s murderers in the literary canon.

I really admired Mr. Clutter, right up until the moment I slit his throat.”

– Perry Smith

(Perry Smith was first protrayed on celluloid by actor Robert Blake, who would one day stand trial himself for arranging the 2001 murder of his wife. Blake was acquitted.)

In Cold Blood has drawn criticism from the outset: for its accuracy, or for its problematic relationship between author and subject, or for its pride of place in the true crime genre. (Or the “nonfiction novel” genre Capote claimed it created.)

But as literary milestone, its place is secure.

In Cold Blood, in multiple media

* More detail about Smith and Hickock and Capote and the Clutters in this trutv article.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Arts and Literature,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Diminished Capacity,Execution,Hanged,History,Kansas,Murder,Popular Culture,USA

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1816: John Allen and John Penny, poachers

5 comments April 13th, 2010 Headsman

On this date in 1816, poachers John Penny and John Allen hanged for the murder of a gameskeeper.

This wasn’t about preserving endangered elephants from the depredations of the ivory trade, but the centuries-long rural skirmish between classes over land use and property control.

The recipe to make a poacher [said an English Peer in 1825] will be found to contain a very few and simple ingredients which may be met with in every game county in England. Search out (and you need not go far) a poor man with a large family, or a poor man single man, having his natural sense of right and wrong … give him little more than a natural disinclination to go to work, let him exist in the midst of lands where the game is preserved, keep him cool in the winter, by allowing him insufficient wages to purchase fuel; let him feel hungry upon the small pittance of parish relief; and if he be not a poacher it will only be by the blessing of God.

It was the legacy of enclosure, the breaking-up of common lands and the abolition of longstanding privileges that underpinned (among other things) the traditions of English game-hunting and the livelihoods of commoners who depended upon it.

“After estates and commons were removed from public access by enclosure,” writes Babette Smith, “poaching became a manifestation of the class war — a civil war in fact, which was never declared.”

And not only a metaphorical war.


Pew pew pew.

The wholesale seizure of lands, wealth, and social rights had perforce to be upheld by violence. Here in Gloucestershire’s Vale of Berkeley, the principal landowner was one William FitzHardinge Berkeley, tetchy bastard son of an illustrious army officer who inherited the wealth of his family and the chip on his shoulder about not being admitted to the peerage due to his out-of-wedlock birth.

Landowners at this time had no compunctions about setting lethal traps to keep out those they legally defined as trespassers. Late in 1815, a poacher named Thomas Till had actually been killed by a tripwire-activated spring gun, to the outrage of his compatriots.

John Allen, charismatic local farmer and a poacher himself, had some score-settling on his mind one moonlit night in January when he rounded up 15 other poachers, swore them all to silence, and went out armed and looking for trouble.

They found it in a band of Berkeley’s gamekeepers, who confronted the poachers. Shooting broke out; one of the gamekeepers was killed and a few others wounded.

“Eleven young men, nine of whom were farmers’ sons and respectably connected,” in the characterization of the Gloucester Journal, were convicted of murder by a jury weeping as it delivered the verdict. For the real facts on the ground, this criminal justice framework made for a cruel fit, especially since the highhanded lord seems to have engineered the dangerous encounter to begin with. Dr. Edward Jenner, famous pioneer of immunology, was also a Gloucestershire magistrate involved in this case; he, too, had misgivings.

All but the ringleader Allen and John Penny, apparent author of the fatal shot, received the clemency of convict transportation to Van Dieman’s Land, Australia — although a couple got away outright and never stood trial and one of those arrested turned state’s evidence in exchange for a full pardon.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Hanged,History,Murder,Notable Participants,Public Executions,Theft

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1782: Captain Joshua Huddy

2 comments April 12th, 2010 Headsman

On this date in 1782, Captain Joshua Huddy of the revolutionary New Jersey patriot militia was summarily (and extrajudicially) hanged on the New Jersey coast by the British Tories.

Huddy was a troublesome rascal in civilian life, a regular denizen of courts in his native Salem, Mass., and (upon transplant in 1778) Monmouth County, N.J.

Tory British Loyalists found him troublesome in the bare-knuckled revolutionary conflict in Monmouth, “often engaged in raids and revenge executions, which continued even after the war’s end.”

Huddy mounted various guerrilla raids in the area from 1779; his Loyalist opposite number actually captured him in 1780, but Huddy was freed by his comrades before he could be taken to the British.

Not so lucky this time.

On March 24, 1782, Loyalists overwhelmed Huddy’s fort at Toms River, N.J..

This was, de facto if not de jure, within the compass of those raids occurring after the war’s end, since at five months after Yorktown, the American Revolution was settled in all but name.

Huddy figured to be exchanged for Loyalist prisoners, but word came that a Monmouth County Tory named Philip White had been killed.

The last English royal governor of New Jersey, William Franklin,* ordered Huddy’s execution in retaliation-slash-punishment without any form of court-martial. (It seems the Loyalist position was that Huddy had himself been involved in White’s death; the Patriots insisted that Huddy was already in British hands when White was killed.)

A note was found pinned to Huddy’s body, reading,

We the refugees, having with grief long beheld the cruel murders of our brethern, and finding nothing but such measures daily carrying into execution — we, therefore, determine not to suffer without taking vengeance for the numerous cruelties; and thus begin, and, I say, may those lose their liberty who do not follow on, and have made use of Captain Huddy as the first object to present to your view; and further determine to hang man for man while there is a refugee existing. Up goes Huddy for Philip White.

(Two other prisoners taken with Huddy were exchanged, and had the story to tell — including Huddy’s remark that he would “dye innocent and in a good cause.”)

This, of course, caused quite a hue and cry for vengeance on the Patriot side.

George Washington demanded Huddy’s executioner for a bit of tit-for-tat, but although the British repudiated the lawless hanging, they refused to give Washington his man. Richard Lippencott (or Lippincott) instead got a British trial in New York, skated on an only-following-orders defense, and subsequently retired to Canada to live to the ripe old age of 81.

The frustrated proto-Americans resorted to selecting a captured Yorktown officer by lot for a reprisal execution.

This lottery was “won” by the young British officer Charles Asgill, who stood for some months in danger of a politically awkward hanging even as the sides maneuvered towards the official end of the war.

Since Asgill turned out to be a charismatic, youthful officer of unblemished honor, nobody felt good about the situation; even Huddy’s widow asked for Asgill’s life to be spared. (Though that might also be because Huddy stiffed her in the will he scribbled out moments before death, written on the head of the barrel they used to hang him.)

Eventually, pressure from the Revolution’s French patrons — the hostage had a Huguenot mother — helped Asgill avoid hanging.**

Returned to the British, Asgill went on to become a very prominent general.

Nobody ever expiated Captain Joshua Huddy’s hanging.


Memorial for Joshua Huddy at Huddy Park in Highlands, N.J. Image (c) Sheena Chi and used with permission.

* Son of American patriotic luminary Benjamin Franklin. This is why you don’t talk politics with family.

** Upon his release from American custody, Asgill traveled to France to thank personally his royal saviors. Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette could hardly have imagined that they would one day soon stand in Huddy’s shoes.

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Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Borderline "Executions",England,Execution,Guerrillas,Hanged,History,Martyrs,New Jersey,No Formal Charge,Occupation and Colonialism,Revolutionaries,Separatists,Soldiers,Summary Executions,Terrorists,USA,War Crimes,Wartime Executions,Wrongful Executions

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1554: Thomas Wyatt the Younger, with the Queen’s life in his hands

2 comments April 11th, 2010 Headsman

On this date in 1554, rebel leader Thomas Wyatt the Younger tied on his own blindfold and laid his head on the block, having declared that not “any other now in your durance [i.e., the Tower] was privy to my rising”.

That remark exculpated the Princess Elizabeth, who just days before had been ominously rowed to the Tower on suspicion of having known of or involved herself in Wyatt‘s abortive revolt.

And Wyatt had had to do more than talk the talk to keep the future Queen Elizabeth I out of the executioner’s way.

Sore afraid that Wyatt’s rebellion had been engineered with the connivance of her Protestant half-sister, the Catholic Queen Mary Tudor had had Wyatt tortured to implicate her.

Wyatt held firm to Elizabeth’s innocence.

Had he not, the princess might have followed her mother to the scaffold, instead of becoming one of the realm’s most illustrious monarchs* — a fraught situation aptly portrayed at the outset of the 1998 Cate Blanchett flick Elizabeth.

It wasn’t only religion that made the political situation in 1550s England so perilous.

Mary Tudor’s marriage to Philip of Spain had roused fears of Spanish political domination. This, much more than theology, triggered the plot that took Thomas Wyatt’s head off his shoulders.

Against this specter of Iberian influence, Wyatt and some fellow-nobles attempted to raise coordinated insurrections in early 1554. Most fizzled or were busted by authorities before they could get going. Wyatt’s alone, in quarrelsome Kent, ignited: he marched 4,000 men on the city of London and for a moment seemed to have a real prospect of capturing it before the crown rallied the city.

A paroxysm of vengeful executions in February 1554 claimed nearly 100 participants in the rebellion, their mutilated bodies demonstratively hung up around town. (It also claimed Lady Jane Grey, the lately defeated rival contender for Mary’s throne, whom the latter now realized was too dangerous to be left alive.)

It could have been uglier, though.

Despite her “Bloody Mary” reputation, the Queen went fairly easy on this dangerous challenge to her authority, making some high-profile examples but paroling most of the rank-and-file traitors in a hearts-and-minds clemency campaign.

The namesake rebel, however, was never going to be in that bunch. He was kept on a bit in the Tower while Mary’s goons “laboured to make Sir Thomas Wyatt confess concerning the Lady Elizabeth … but unsuccessfully, though torture had been applied.”

“Much suspected by me, nothing proved can be, Quoth Elizabeth prisoner”

Having kept his head under torture, Wyatt lost it on this date — and readied Elizabeth’s to wear the crown.


If you find the Elizabethan age worth celebrating, spare an extra thought this date for Thomas Wyatt the Younger’s eponymous old man.**

This Henrician poet is supposed to have been Anne Boleyn‘s last lover before Henry VIII.

In Henry’s snakepit, youthful frolics could come back to bite you; Wyatt the elder was actually imprisoned for adultery with the queen, only ducking the fatal charge thanks to some pull with Thomas Cromwell.

Wyatt pere wrote a melancholy poem about this depressing turn of his fortunes, but considering his times, you’d have to say he was born under a good sign.

A few years later, he was again on the hook for treason, and (Cromwell having been beheaded in the interim) saved by the fortuitous influence of Queen Catherine Howard, who was herself not long before a fall and a chop. (After that, Lady Wyatt, famous for her gallantries, was supposed to be in the running to become King Henry’s sixth wife even though she was still married to Thomas.)

The elder Wyatt managed to die naturally before trying his luck with a third treason charge.

* Many a slip ‘twixt a cup and a lip, but that turn of ill fate for Elizabeth could have set Mary, Queen of Scots on her way to becoming one of England’s most illustrious monarchs, instead of going to the scaffold.

** The illustrious family ties go the other direction, too. Thomas Wyatt the Younger was the grandfather of Francis Wyatt, the first English royal governor of the New World territory named for Queen Elizabeth: Virginia.

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Entry Filed under: 16th Century,Arts and Literature,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Drawn and Quartered,England,Execution,History,Nobility,Notably Survived By,Power,Public Executions,Revolutionaries,Soldiers,Torture,Treason

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