Archive for May, 2012

1484: Olivier le Daim, diabolical barber

1 comment May 21st, 2012 Headsman

On this date in 1484, the onetime royal barber turned noble scoundrel was hanged at the terrifying Montfaucon gibbet.

Jolly grotesque “Olivier le Necker” (“Olivier the Devil”) statue in Tielt, Belgium. (cc) image from Zeisterre.

The scheming Olivier le Daim (English Wikipedia page | French), who ought to be patron saint of networking, got himself a gig as the sovereign’s coiffeur and glad-handed his way from straight razors all the way to the aristocracy. A presumably smooth-shaved Louis XI created him comte de Meulant.

Louis was an inveterate schemer known as the “Universal Spider”, and Olivier — excuse me, the comte — from his sprawling fortified manor proved an eager confederate. As Louis had a gift for infuriating the realm’s noble houses, he liked to elevate commoners into his entourage, men like our “Meulant” and Cardinal Balue whose loyalty could be relied upon since they owed their positions to the crown.

“That terrible Figaro whom Providence, the great maker of dramas, mingled so artistically in the long and bloody comedy of the reign of Louis XI,” Victor Hugo wrote of our man in The Hunchback of Notre Dame. “This barber of the king had three names. At court he was politely called Olivier le Daim (the Deer); among the people Olivier the Devil. His real name was Olivier le Mauvais.” [Meaning “the bad”, as with “Charles le Mauvais”, the king Charles the Bad — a real bastard.]

With the disintegration of Burgundy following the death of Charles the Bold, le Daim was sent to that duchy’s Belgian reaches to connive them into French hands.

In the great tradition of commoners handpicked for royal favor “the Devil” attracted plenty of resentment displaced from the king himself.

And if, according to everyone else, Oliver the Bad was a swaggering, nasty villain, he still remained loyal to Louis all the way to the latter’s deathbed. Louis recommended him to his successors’ favor, but once the Spider King was gone the put-upon lords of the realm vented their blueblooded spleens upon Olivier. (A servant of Olivier’s named Daniel also suffered the same fate.)

It’s not clear to me that history records the exact charge furnishing the pretext for his execution this date — this suggests abuse of his power to order executions — but it does certainly bequeath us this epitaph:

Cii gist le Diable
Baptisé le Dain
Jugé pendable
Barbier suzerain

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Entry Filed under: 15th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,France,Gibbeted,Hanged,History,Infamous,Nobility,Public Executions

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1881: Po’olua, “darkened in my mind”

Add comment May 20th, 2012 Headsman

This date in 1881 saw the hanging of a native Hawaiian named Po’olua for a homicide of domestic jealousy tinged by almost tragic remorse.

This case is described in the 1991 essay “A Short History of Hawaiian Executions, 1826-1947” by Joseph Theroux.

In 1881, the Hawaiian [Po’olua] grew enraged when his when his common-law wife, according to the papers, “paraded her infidelity” before him and slaughtered her with a “big butcher knife.” Then, in a fit of remorse, he draped his house in mourning with black crepe paper.

… The experts of the day — family doctors and preachers — were conducted in to interview the bewildered man. They questioned him and concluded that he was not insane. Po’olua himsel agreed that he was sane but “darkened in my mind.” … the Reverend H.H. Parker explained the man’s actions this way: “A Hawaiian would do many things which a white man would not.”

When it as found that Po’olua had a heart abnormality and that he would likely die soon anyway, letters of clemency were circulated on his behalf. But he was hanged on May 20, 1881. Permission was sought for a post mortem to investigate the state of his heart, but officials denied the request. The Advertiser remarked that it “should have been done. Being attended to, might have laid him quiet in his grave; but being forbidden, his spirit will rise up Banquo-like for many a day to come.”

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Hanged,Hawaii,History,Murder,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Sex

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1998: Wissam Issa and Hassan Abu Jabal

Add comment May 19th, 2012 Headsman

On this date in 1998,* Wissam Issa and Hassan Jabal were shockingly hanged in public in Tabarja, Lebanon.

Executions hadn’t seen the outside of prison walls in that country for 15 years at that time — back when there was a civil war on.

But Issa and Jabal were condemned for a home burgling attempt gone wrong(er): when the owners unexpectedly returned, Issa fled — but Jabal gunned them down. They both answered for the murders.

Marched out onto a somewhat jerry-built hanging platform (Issa was stoic; Jabal, unmanned), the two died at dawn before a crowd of 1,500 to 2,000 spectators … and plenty of cameras. The grisly proceedings made the nightly news, of course.

“It was horrible,” one Tabarja woman remembered. “The kids were playing at hanging each other afterwards at school.”

Oddly enough, it was also the last hanging (private or public) for over five more years to come. Later in 1998, a staunch death penalty foe became Prime Minister, and refused to approve any execution warrants.

* Reports of May 25 instead of May 19 are out there, but that’s easily disproven by, e.g., this Robert Fisk dispatch on the hanging which saw print on May 21, 1998.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,History,Lebanon,Mature Content,Murder,Public Executions

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1812: John Bellingham, Prime Minister assassin

1 comment May 18th, 2012 Headsman

Two centuries ago today, the only man to assassinate a British Prime Minister was hanged for his trouble.

The man at the end of the rope, John Bellingham, was a Liverpool businessman who had gone to Archangel, Russia to do some export/import trade and there been spuriously accused a debtor and slapped in prison for five years.

His target, Spencer Perceval, was the pious Tory heir to the late William Pitt, and famous (or infamous) for his evangelical personal rectitude and an accompanying status-quo smallness. (He was physically short, too.) “He has looked at human nature from the top of Hampstead Hill,” snorted his contemporary Sydney Smith, “and has not a thought beyond the little sphere of his own vision.”*

Though others judge more generously of him, Perceval’s overall reputation is that of the prim caretaker, violently anti-Bonaparte, anti-Catholic, anti-adultery, anti-worker, anti-egalitarian, anti-democratic, anti-slavery. Anti- a lot of things.

Anti-cluttering up his schedule was the thing that did him in.

John Bellingham returned from his sojourn in the Romanovs’ dungeons in 1809, understandably embittered over his ordeal and the bankruptcy it had driven him into. He then besieged the government with demands for compensation, but met a cold reception all over and got no reply at all for his request to meet with Spencer Perceval.

So Bellingham did what anyone would do: he walked up to Perceval at Westminster on May 11, 1812, and shot him dead.

Then the strange perpetrator with the private grievance re-seated himself comfortably by the fireplace (rather than exploiting the hubbub to fly), where he was promptly arrested. They didn’t mess around back then: John Bellingham was on trial for his life four days after pulling the trigger.

Nevertheless, as the rumor first spread there were fears — or in some cases, hopes — of Jacobin intrigues afoot. And it’s safe to say that the nation’s magnates had better cause than its underclasses to mourn Perceval. “Among the multitude,” one parliamentarian remembered of those days, “the most savage expressions of joy and exultation were heard: accompanied with regret that others, and particularly the attorney-general, had not shared the same fate.”

Clearly something less than fully rational, Bellingham was also more than lucid enough for the hemp. A minister who visited him in the hours before his execution found him unsettlingly unrepentant, and attributed to “the perverse inflexibility of his character” Bellingham’s delusional “self-vindication. He had accordingly taken his ground, and there he obstinately stood; and the weakness of his allegations only increased the firmness by which he was determined to maintain them.”

He had, indeed, maintained them openly at trial, bizarrely casting his homicide as a blow for better government to remind ministers of state to keep longer office hours.

Finding myself thus bereft of all hopes of redress, my affairs ruined by my long imprisonment in Russia through the fault of the British minister, my property all dispersed for want of my own attention, my family driven into tribulation and want, my wife and child claiming support, which I was unable to give them, myself involved in difficulties, and pressed on all sides by claims I could not answer; and that justice refused to me which is the duty of government to give, not as a matter of favour, but of right; and Mr. Perceval obstinately refusing to sanction my claims in Parliament; and I trust this fatal catastrophe will be warning to other ministers. If they had listened to my case this court would not have been engaged in this case, but Mr. Perceval obstinately refusing to sanction my claim in Parliament I was driven to despair, and under these agonizing feelings I was impelled to that desperate alternative which I unfortunately adopted. My arm was the instrument that shot Mr. Perceval, but, gentlemen, ought I not to be redressed; instead of that Mr. Ryder referred me to the Treasury, and after several weeks the Treasury sent me to the Secretary of State’s office; Mr. Hill informed me that it would be useless to apply to government any more; Mr. Beckitt added, Mr. Perceval has been consulted, he would not let my petition come forward.

Gentlemen, A refusal of justice was the sole cause of this fatal catastrophe; his Majesty’s ministers have now to reflect upon their conduct for what has happened. Lord Gower is now in court, I call on him to contradict, if he can, the statement I have made, and, gentlemen, if he does not, I hope you will then take my statement to be correct. Mr. Perceval has unfortunately fallen the victim of my desperate resolution. No man, I am sure, laments the calamitous event more than I do. If I had met Lord Gower he would have received the ball, and not Mr. Perceval. As to death, if it were to be suffered five hundred times, I should prefer it to the injuries and indignities which I have experienced in Russia, I should consider it as the wearied traveller does the inn which affords him an asylum for repose, but government, in the injustice they have done me, were infinitely more criminal than the wretch, who, for depriving the traveller of a few shillings on the highway, forfeits his life to the law. What is the comparison of this man’s offence to government? or, gentlemen, what is my crime to the crime of government itself? It is no more than a mite to a mountain, unless it was proved that I had malice propense towards the unfortunate gentleman for whose death I am now upon my trial. I disclaim all personal or intentional malice against Mr. Perceval.

According to a Frenchman in England at the time, the still-sympathetic public raised for Bellingham’s widow and orphan a subscription “ten times greater than they could ever have expected in any other circumstances.”

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* In Peter Plymley’s Letters, which is full of vituperation for Perceval’s harsh Irish policy … words that could go just as readily for many a reputed statesman in many a time and circumstance over the two centuries elapsed since.

I cannot describe the horror and disgust which I felt at hearing Mr. Perceval call upon the then Ministry for measures of vigour in Ireland. If I lived at Hampstead upon stewed meats and claret; if I walked to church every Sunday before eleven young gentlemen of my own begetting, with their faces washed, and their hair pleasingly combed; if the Almighty had blessed me with every earthly comfort — how awfully would I pause before I sent forth the flame and the sword over the cabins of the poor, brave, generous, open-hearted peasants of Ireland! How easy it is to shed human blood; how easy it is to persuade ourselves that it is our duty to do so, and that the decision has cost us a severe struggle; how much in all ages have wounds and shrieks and tears been the cheap and vulgar resources of the rulers of mankind; how difficult and how noble it is to govern in kindness and to found an empire upon the everlasting basis of justice and affection! But what do men call vigour? To let loose hussars and to bring up artillery, to govern with lighted matches, and to cut, and push, and prime; I call this not vigour, but the SLOTH OF CRUELTY AND IGNORANCE. The vigour I love consists in finding out wherein subjects are aggrieved, in relieving them, in studying the temper and genius of a people, in consulting their prejudices, in selecting proper persons to lead and manage them, in the laborious, watchful, and difficult task of increasing public happiness by allaying each particular discontent. In this way Hoche pacified La Vendee — and in this way only will Ireland ever be subdued. But this, in the eyes of Mr. Perceval, is imbecility and meanness. Houses are not broken open, women are not insulted, the people seem all to be happy; they are not rode over by horses, and cut by whips. Do you call this vigour? Is this government?

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Assassins,Businessmen,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Death Penalty,Diminished Capacity,England,Execution,Hanged,History,Murder,Notable for their Victims

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1964: Namgyal Bahadur, Bhutan assassin

Add comment May 17th, 2012 Headsman

On this date in 1964, three officers were executed in Bhutan, including former deputy commander in chief Namgyal Bahadur, for assassinating Prime Minister Jigme Dorji.

Jigme Dorji

A member of the powerful Dorji family and brother-in-law to the Bhutanese king, Dorji was overseeing a modernization campaign for the insular Himalayan kingdom. On April 5, 1964, while the king was in Europe for medical treatment, Dorji was shot dead while relaxing on his veranda. No wholesale seizure of power was attempted.

The entire affair has long been murky, and it seems it was murky to those involved, too.

The assassin, one Zambay,* was caught within days, and he implicated a number of powerful people — including not only Namgyal Bahadur, but the king’s Tibetan mistress.

She eventually fled the country, though her alleged involvement fueled rumors of a Chinese connection, or (more plausibly) of palace politics between her faction that that of the rival Dorjis. Old guard military guys versus the modernizers is another hypothetical dimension, although again the specifics (why now? what was the last straw?) are wanting.

* Zambay was executed on July 4.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Assassins,Bhutan,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Murder,Notable for their Victims,Power,Shot,Soldiers

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1920: Maria Bochkareva, Russian Joan of Arc

9 comments May 16th, 2012 Headsman

On this date in 1920, the Cheka shot famed female soldier Maria Bochkareva (or Botchkareva).

The “Russian Joan of Arc” was a peasant woman from Novgorod by way of Siberia.

She’d been in the workforce since the age of eight, and had passed almost continuously through abusive male relationships (violently drunken father, marriages to two wife-batterers). She’d also in that time shown herself a natural leader, and become a construction foreman.

It seems the great war came for Bochkareva as a liberating, almost redemptive, force: at least, that is the conclusion of hindsight.

In her memoir Yashka: My Life as Peasant, Exile and Soldier (freely available here), she recalls the spirit of patriotism that swept Russians into war, just as it did German and French and British youths.

a gigantic wave of popular enthusiasm, sweeping the steppes, valleys, and forests of vast Russia, from Petrograd and Moscow, across the Ural mountains and Siberia, to the borders of China, and the Pacific coast.

There was something sublime about the nation’s response. Old men, who had fought in the Crimean War, in the Turkish Campaign of 1877-78, and the Russo-Japanese War, declared that they never saw such exaltation of spirit. It was a glorious, inspiring, unforgettable moment in one’s life. My soul was deeply stirred, and I had a dim realization of a new world coming to life, a purer, a happier and a holier world.

“Go to war to help save the country!” a voice within me called.

This dovetailed nicely (we do not say insincerely) with Bochkareva’s own striving for a more meaningful life than was on offer in her second marriage.

To leave Yasha for my personal comfort and safety was almost unthinkable. But to leave him for the field of unselfish sacrifice, that was a different matter. And the thought of going to war penetrated deeper and deeper into my whole being, giving me no rest.

Bochkareva appealed directly to the tsar and secured his personal permission to enlist. She earned several decorations for heroism in the tsarist army … and when the Romanovs fell, the pre-Bolshevik revolutionary government under Alexander Keresnky gave her permission to create an all-female formation: the Women’s Battalion of Death.

(“Of Death” was a bombastic cognomen any unit could receive by pledging never to surrender.)

“Come with us in the name of your fallen heroes,” Bochkareva implored in an appeal to Russian women in June 1917. “Come with us to dry the tears and heal the wounds of Russia. Protect her with yours lives. We women are turning into tigresses to protect our children from a shameful yoke — to protect the freedom of our country.”


Maria Bochkareva, center, supervises shooing practice. (Source)

Some 2,000 answered the summons.

Only around 300 of these could withstand Bochkareva’s iron discipline, and though other women’s battalions would follow (one, for instance, defended the Winter Palace against the Bolsheviks), only Bochkareva’s saw service on the front.


The Women’s Battalion at a Moscow ceremony in the summer of 1917.

Although amenable to Kerensky’s Provisional Government, Bochkareva was an unmitigated anti-Bolshevik.

According to her memoirs, her “tigresses” continued fighting while the rest of the front was fraternizing, and enraged her male comrades by drawing artillery fire. She had to flee male soldiers intent on lynching her when she was still fighting after peace was announced. She had a hard time getting used to the idea of the new Soviet government, and the feeling was mutual: her battalion was soon disbanded and it wasn’t long before she took a steamship into exile.

(Her memoirs contain a harrowing account of her once being detained as a counterrevolutionary and barely avoiding execution.)

That memoir of Bochkareva’s was dictated in New York in 1918, just a few months since she had been in the trenches facing the Kaiser. Clearly she did not believe her mission to “heal the wounds of Russia” had been accomplished, for it was her attempt to return to the fight against the Bolsheviks that doomed her: in spring 1919, she went to the Russian Urals during the civil war to try to form a women’s unit under the White Admiral Kolchak.

But she was captured by the Reds inside of a year, and sentenced as an enemy of the people.

There’s an interesting open-access academic article about Bochkareva and the woman-soldier phenomenon here, as well as a larger bibliography here.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Power,Russia,Shot,Soldiers,Treason,USSR,Wartime Executions,Women

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2012: Majid Jamali Fashi

Add comment May 15th, 2012 Headsman

Today in Iran, Majid Jamali Fashi was hanged for murdering nuclear scientist Masoud Alimohammadi — allegedly at the behest of Israeli intelligence.

Alimohammadi, a Tehran University physics professor, was slain in January 2010 by a booby-trapped motorcycle parked next to his car just as he left for work in the morning.

It’s one of a whole pattern of “events that happen unnaturally” befalling Iranian scientists — events whose rather self-evident foreign sponsorship is supposed to be bracketed as “alleged” and definitely not described as “terrorism”.

Whether that’s specifically true in Alimohammadi’s case is arguably a bit harder to judge, since he was not directly involved in Iran’s nuclear program. Iran’s western opponents have speculated that Tehran itself murdered him because he was a (low-key) supporter of the country’s opposition who in death could serve as an official martyr.

That would be awfully convenient: official martyrs come cheap but Iran doesn’t exactly have a limitless supply of particle physicists.

Accurately or not, Fashi confessed to carrying out Alimohammadi’s assassination, claiming that he was recruited, paid, and trained by the Mossad for the job.

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Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Assassins,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,History,Iran,Israel,Murder,Notable for their Victims,Ripped from the Headlines,Terrorists,Treason

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1917: Emil Rebreanu, Forest of the Hanged inspiration

Add comment May 14th, 2012 Headsman

On this date in 1917, Romanian Lieutenant Emil Rebreanu was hanged for attempted desertion by the Austro-Hungarian army.

Here’s Rebreanu’s entry at the Enciclopedia Romaniei, which says in brief that he was one of 14 (!) brothers born in the part of present-day Romania that was then attached to the Kingdom of Hungary.

Upon the outbreak of World War I, Rebreanu was drafted into the Austro-Hungarian forces and fought on several fronts. But his removal to the lines to fight against the independent Romanian state was a front too far: he attempted to cross the lines to the Romanians on the night of May 10-11, but was captured, court-martialed, and sentenced to hang.

However, tragedy for the sizable Rebreanu family was a boon to world literature.

One of Emil’s many brothers was author Liviu Rebreanu, one of the greats of Romanian letters.

The latter’s 1922 novel Forest of the Hanged clearly draws upon his brother’s fate: in Forest, a Romanian officer uneasily serving in the Habsburg army first condemns a Czech deserter to death as part of a tribunal, then attempts himself to desert to Romania.

For his trouble, the character suffers the exact same fate as Emil Rebreanu.

A 1965 Romanian film, also called Forest of the Hanged, adapts this novel for the silver screen.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Arts and Literature,Austria,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Desertion,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Habsburg Realm,Hanged,History,Military Crimes,Notably Survived By,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Romania,Soldiers,Wartime Executions

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1828: Carbonari in Ravenna

2 comments May 13th, 2012 Headsman

On this date in 1828, revolutionaries Luigi Zanoli, Ortolani Angiolo, Gaetano Montanari, and Gaetano Rambelli were hanged in Ravenna.*

These were members of the carbonari, charcoal-burnersan anti-clerical political secret society of the early 19th century.

Further to that body’s sanguinary campaign against papal political domination, they authored an attempted kidnapping and/or assassination of the Vatican’s Romagna enforcer, Cardinal Rivarola. Rivarola had recently issued mass condemnations against carbonari.

Which is very nice. But they didn’t get the Cardinal.

Ubiquitous 19th century papal executioner Mastro Titta conducted the executions — the 266th through 269th of his career (he’d also done Gaetano Montanari’s better-known brother Leonida three years before) — and devoted a chapter of his memoirs to the occasion. You can call the carbonari terrorists if you wish, but the Ravenna populace’s fearsomely cinematic display of solidarity with the doomed makes eloquent historical testimony on their behalf.

The execution took place on May 13 on a large square in Ravenna, occupied by the military so that nobody could not approach the gallows other than the executioners, the soldiers, and the prisoners. The windows and doors of the city and the shops were all closed and many were hung with black. Not a person was seen on the streets. Ravenna seemed transformed into a necropolis. All attempts to convert them were vigorously rejected by the prisoners, who did not want confession nor religious comforters, and protested against the accompaniment of two friars ordered by the Cardinal.** The wagon crossed streets deserted and silent, all surrounded by soldiers on foot and horseback riding at a brisk trot. Arrived at the foot of the gallows, the condemned went down with a firm step, and one by one they boldly climbed the stairs of the gallows, and before the gallows clutching their necks shouted in a voice strong and fearless:

– Viva Italia! Down with the papacy!

The execution was conducted rapidly. I departed with my aide that night under guard, because it was rumored that the conspirators wanted to skin us.

* It appears to me — although it’s not completely clear from what I’ve seen — that a fifth man, a Jewish poisoner named Abramo Isacco Forti (aka “Machino”), was also executed in this group, for collaborating with the carbonari on a different murder. He’s listed on Titta’s roster of victims without date or explanation, but specifically named in, e.g., this Italian book’s roster of death sentences handed out by that same court.

** This public-domain Italian independence martyrology attributes to the prisoners the worthy quote, “Who becomes a king and an executioner ceases to be a minister of God.”

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Assassins,Attempted Murder,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,History,Italy,Mass Executions,Papal States,Power,Public Executions,Ravenna,Revolutionaries,Terrorists

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1388: Three evil counselors of Richard II

Add comment May 12th, 2012 Headsman

On this date in 1388, James Berners, John Beauchamp, and John Salisbury were convicted by the “Merciless Parliament” of treason, and put to immediate death.

You could say that relations between the branches of government were a bit on the frayed side, since crown and parliament had civil war for political primacy. Parliament won.

It just wasn’t quite one of those all-out, kill-you-when-we’re-done wars to depose the king outright. (That would come later.) “We do not rebel or arm ourselves against the King except in order to instruct him,” one of the rebelling Lord Appellant told His Majesty.

“Instructing” Richard II meant politically isolating him and then mercilessly — hence the resulting parliament’s name — attainting his aides and allies for treason.

So all that spring, young Richard II helplessly “presided” over a parliament where his supporters were condemned on trumped-up charges.

This date was the turn for Sir John Beauchamp of Holt and Sir James Berners (or Barnes), two guys noble enough to suffer “merely” beheading, plus Sir John Salisbury, who was far enough down England’s class hierarchy that he got to endure the full drawing and quartering treatment.


Berners may have been the father of a 15th century prioress and author, Juliana Berners.

This woman wasn’t the type to keep to her cloister and meditate: Berners wrote books on her vigorous pastimes of heraldry, hunting, and hawking. Her Treatise of Fishing with an Angle remains one of the seminal books for the sport of angling.

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Entry Filed under: 14th Century,Arts and Literature,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Cycle of Violence,Death Penalty,Drawn and Quartered,England,Execution,Gruesome Methods,History,Nobility,Notably Survived By,Politicians,Power,The Worm Turns,Treason,Wrongful Executions

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