Archive for September, 2016

9: The Battle of Teutoburg Forest

Add comment September 11th, 2016 Headsman


Zum Kampf! Zum Kampf! from Max Bruch‘s 1877 oratorio about Teutoburg Forest victor Arminius. Also be sure to check out the Handel opera.

September 11 in the year 9 AD marked the bloody conclusion of the Battle of Teutoburg Forest — the engagement that permanently scared the Romans off Germany.

One of history’s true turning-point battles, Teutoberg Forest abruptly stanched decades of expansion that had seen Roman arms ascendant from Britain to the Levant. Indeed, the Roman commander who had the dishonor of falling on his sword at this legendary defeat, Publius Quinctilius Varus, was an experienced imperial patrician as well-traveled as the Roman standards who has been seen in these very pages collaborating with the Judean King Herod to execute Herod’s former heir.

But it was in the shadows and bogs of Germany’s primeval forests that Varus made his legacy to the world, which was to have his name famously bemoaned by facepalming Emperor Augustus once news of the disaster made its way back to the Eternal City.

Prior to this cataclysm, the empire had been working a years-long plan to annex fringe chunks of the vast Magna Germania beyond the Rhine and Danube rivers with its customary view towards eventually bossing the whole place. “Upper Germania” and “Lower Germania” to the west of Magna Germania already answered to Rome, testament to recent campaigns launched from neighboring Gaul;* the vast frontier beyond peopled by fractious warring barbarian tribes, with whom Rome cut strategic divide-and-conquer alliances, appeared to promise a future march of Roman glories all the way to the Baltic Sea.

This imperial hubris was shattered at a blow by the Cheruscan chief Arminius, who thereby made his name immortal to Germany.**

He had the element of surprise on his side, because his family had been such loyal Roman allies that Arminius had been trained up in the Roman army as a youth, and even held Roman citizenship. Whatever it was he experienced seems to have nurtured an implacable desire him to keep it away form his homeland. When the time came his familiarity with Roman military orders would be a high card in his hand, too.

Back in Germania, Arminius maintained his overt affiliation with Rome but started sending out feelers to assemble a confederation against the legions. He played this double game so adroitly that Varus still trusted his “ally” implicitly when Arminius reported a Germanic uprising that wanted Roman chastisement. Blind to his danger, Varus duly (and with casual discipline that would read very culpably in retrospect) marched his 17th, 18th, and 19th legions out through the unfamiliar glooms of the Teutoburg Forest.

It was a right massacre.

Their column broken up by rough terrain and pounding autumn rains, the Romans were ripe pickings for German sorties beginning on September 9. Harried by the Germans over two days’ panicked marching, the Romans were pressed into a dead end where palisades trapped the desperate legions at the edge of a slough and put them to slaughter. A bare handful escaped to tell the tale, and no future legion would bear the numerals of those annihilated on this day.


Varusschlacht, by Otto Albert Koch (1909).

The scale of the defeat, by rude tribesmen the empire always counted on being able to bully, beggared the Roman imagination.

“An army unexcelled in bravery, the first of Roman armies in discipline, in energy, and in experience in the field, through the negligence of its general, the perfidy of the enemy, and the unkindness of fortune was surrounded,” Paterculus lamented. “Hemmed in by forests and marshes and ambuscades, it was exterminated almost to a man by the very enemy whom it had always slaughtered like cattle, whose life or death had depended solely upon the wrath or the pity of the Romans.”

To judge by Roman reports — and what gives this event a purchase on the annals of Executed Today — the battlefield rout transitioned directly to the ceremonial butchery of captives. (As well as the posthumous beheading of the suicide Varus.) While some suffered torture and execution, others were offered as ritual sacrifices to the Germanic gods who had so magnificently delivered the day.

Several years later, a Roman force out to re-capture the lost standards of the Teutoburg legions reached the site of the empire’s humiliation. Tacitus describes the scene as a horror.

In the center of the field were the whitening bones of men, as they had fled, or stood their ground, strewn everywhere or piled in heaps. Near lay fragments of weapons and limbs of horses, and also human heads, prominently nailed to trunks of trees. In the adjacent groves were the barbarous altars, on which they had immolated tribunes and first-rank centurions.

Some survivors of the disaster who had escaped from the battle or from captivity, described how this was the spot where the officers fell, how yonder the eagles were captured, where Varus was pierced by his first wound, where too by the stroke of his own ill-starred hand he found for himself death. They pointed out too the raised ground from which Arminius had harangued his army, the number of gibbets for the captives, the pits for the living, and how in his exultation he insulted the standards and eagles.

And so the Roman army now on the spot, six years after the disaster, in grief and anger, began to bury the bones of the three legions, not a soldier knowing whether he was interring the relics of a relative or a stranger, but looking on all as kinsfolk and of their own blood, while their wrath rose higher than ever against the foe.

Despite the devastation, Teutoburg Forest was no extinction-level event for the Roman Empire. The Rhine and Danube frontiers remained an ongoing source of action for the many centuries to come, but despite raids and incursions here or there Rome never more seriously aspired to Magna Germania.

A few books about the Battle of Teutoburg Forest

* The future emperor Tiberius campaigned heavily in Germania, the last of which was post-Varus operations from 10 to 12 AD sufficient to permit the Romans to declare an honorably victorious conclusion to the project. (Tiberius celebrated a Triumph afterwards.)

** Arminius — whose name has been held equivalent with “Hermann” — has been the subject of many literary celebratins in a nationalist vein, great business especially in the 19th century.


The Hermannsdenkmal nomument in the Teutoburg Forest, the life’s labor of sculptor Ernst von Bandel who was able to finish it thanks to a mood of national exultation after the triumph of the Franco-Prussian War. For some reason it has a sister in Minnesota. ((cc) image by Hubert Berberich.)

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Entry Filed under: Ancient,Arts and Literature,Borderline "Executions",Cycle of Violence,Execution,Germany,History,Known But To God,Mass Executions,No Formal Charge,Occupation and Colonialism,Put to the Sword,Roman Empire,Soldiers,Summary Executions,Torture,Uncertain Dates,Wartime Executions

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1893: Two women lynched in Quincy, Mississippi

1 comment September 10th, 2016 Meaghan

(Thanks to Meaghan Good of the Charley Project for the guest post. -ed.)

On this date in September 10, 1893, the same day that they admitted to their roles in a murder conspiracy, Mehaley (or Mahaley) Jackson and Louisa Carter were lynched in the town of Quincy in eastern Mississippi, 137 miles east of Memphis.

The two black women’s slayings were only part part of a grisly tragedy that resulted in the deaths of six people, perhaps more.

What little that is now known about the case is reported in cultural historian Kerry Segrave’s Lynching of Women in the United States: Recorded Cases, 1851­1946.

In late August or early September 1893, a white gentleman named Thomas Woodruff fell ill along with his entire family. Two of his five children died. Two weeks later, what was left of the Woodruff family were all still languishing in the hospital, and there was little hope that any of them would recover. Neighbors who nursed the sick family also became ill.

A search of the Woodruff property turned up three packages of Rough-­on-Rats, an arsenic-­based poison, in the well.

Suspicion fell on Ben Woodruff, a local black man. The previous fall, Ben had “entered Woodruff’s house violently, and so excited his wife, who was in a delicate condition from childbirth, that she died in a few hours.” Ben had faced criminal charges in connection with the incident, and Woodruff was one of the witnesses against him, which, it was thought, provided motive to for Ben to kill him. (The news report below prefers a stolen wagon as the source of the friction.)


New Orleans Times-Picayune, September 10, 1893.

On September 9, during the inquest following Ben Jackson’s arrest, a group of unmasked men dragged him away from the police who had custody of him and hanged him. The murder inquiry continued without the suspect and, a day later, his widow, Mehaley Jackson, and mother-­in­-law, Louisa Carter, testified before the jury. They admitted they had known of Ben’s plan to poison the Woodruffs’ well. The two women were not arrested, but it would have been better for them if they had been: when they left the courthouse, an armed mob was waiting for them and hanged them as well.

Vigilante justice wasn’t finished yet: Mehaley and Louisa had said a neighborhood man named Rufus Broyles had given Ben Jackson the money to buy the poison. Broyles fled the area after Ben’s death and went into hiding in a nearby town.

On September 14, he was caught there, and strung up like the others.

Circuit court judge Newman Cayce made a “forcible and peremptory” order to the grand jury to identify and indict the lynchers. Predictably, there’s no record of any charges being brought against anyone.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Borderline "Executions",Capital Punishment,Crime,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Guest Writers,Hanged,History,Innocent Bystanders,Lynching,Mississippi,Murder,No Formal Charge,Other Voices,Public Executions,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Summary Executions,USA,Women

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1853: Reese Evans, youthful murderer

Add comment September 9th, 2016 Headsman

From the New York Times, September 17, 1853:

Last Hours of Reese Evans.

Correspondence of the New-York Daily Times.

WILKESBARRE. Tuesday, Sept. 13, 1853
On Friday last, at 1 o’clock, P.M., the youthful murderer, of whose trial and conviction I gave brief sketches, for the benefit of the readers of the TIMES, a few months since, suffered the extreme penalty of the law.

Soon after his conviction, he made a full confession of his guilt, and professed, to his spiritual adviser, contrition for the enormous crime. He also had prepared a history of his life, disclosing many other brutal adventures in wickedness, to be published after his death.

During the greater portion of the time subsequent to the arrival of the warrant for his execution, he gave himself but partially and unsteadily to the work of preparation for death. Small events diverted his attention, and interrupted his progress.

He was a perfect stoic, and his heart seemed frozen. He would talk of his numerous sins with no apparent emotion. He seldom wept or sighed. He seemed to have the most perfect control of his feelings.

The last few days of his life were spent in solemn preparations for his end. He spent much time in prayer, and seemed desirous to do his utmost to wipe the stain of blood from his soul.

He had an interview with the widow of the murdered man, which was truly affecting.

“Evans,” said she, “did Reese say anything when you shot him?”

He answered, simply, “No.”

“Did he not say anything about the child?”

“No,” was the answer.

“Had you any spite against him?”

“Not any.”

“O, I would give you my two stores if you had only spared my husband.”

Evans covered his face with his hand, and seemed to struggle against his feelings.

He then said, “Mrs. Reese, I am very sorry I did it; if you can, I hope you will forgive me.”

After a little hesitation, and a look at him which seemed a mingled expression of resentment and compassion, she answered, in her somewhat imperfect English, “If I not forgive you, it don’t bring back my husband — Reese was a young man, and you are a young man, you both now be gone — O, you ought not to do it — but I forgive you.”

Her sad black eye swam in tears, and she gazed upon him for half a minute — he looking down, only glancing at her for a moment at a time. She then gave him her hand, and bad him “good bye.”

This scene transpired on Thursday, before noon, just after he had received holy baptism.

He had the company of several ministers alternately throughout the night. On Friday morning he received the holy communion — his father, sister and brother being present.

It was a deeply affecting season, and yet he merely moistened his eyes with a tear or two.

He took leave of his counsel, and of his friends, with a little increased evidence of feeling. He was disturbed with the prospect of more spectators than he desired; but was directed to loo to God, before whom he would soon appear, and pay no attention to surrounding circumstances.

He chose not to be dressed in his shroud, but to die in his ordinary dress. He walked out of his cell into the yard, and ascended the scaffold without faltering. He was seated upon a stool, which he occupied during the religious service.

Rev. Dr. Peck, his spiritual adviser, announced the order of the exercises. Two short prayers were offered; the clergy took their leave of him with a brief exhortation; the Sheriff then adjusted the rope, and upon taking him by the hand, said “Farewell, Evans.”

He responded, “Farewell, Sheriff Palmer — I thank you and your family for all your kindness to me.”

The Sheriff descended, and with a firm nerve gave note of the time, during which Evans stood erect, praying in a low tone, but so as to be heard.

At length the drop fell, and he was launched into eternity.

Evans was a few weeks past eighteen when he murdered the Jew, Louis Reese, in open day, for the purpose of plunder.

How a mere beardless boy should attain such a desperate daring has been to many a profound mystery. His own disclosures show that he did not become a murderer by a sudden impulse, but that it was by commencing early and taking terrible strides in vicious conduct, that he, so early in life, became a giant in wickedness.

His penitence, although unattended by the usual signs of mental anguish, seemed deep and sincere. He had to struggle against habits of thought and feeling which had become imbued in his nature; and made great efforts to resuscitate a conscience which he had well-nigh succeeded in annihilating. This was hard work; and the process was slow, and attended with results but too dubious, down nearly to the day of his execution.

The story of this young man is briefly this: His father was a drunkard when he was a child; he forsook his family, and his mother became insane.

He was partially cared for by strangers, from the age of seven to that of eleven.

After this he wandered about, having no home or steady employment.

He early commenced a system of thieving, to meet his necessities, and proceeded, from step to step, until he reached the climax of wickedness in cold-blooded murder; and ended his career upon the gallows.

The history and fate of this young offender furnish a terrible warning to intemperate and negligent parents, as well as to idle and reckless young men. Small beginnings in crime may soon reach a fearful magnitude. The boy who steals a pen-knife may die by the halter before he is twenty!

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,Murder,Pelf,Pennsylvania,USA

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1914: Thomas Highgate, the first shot in the Great War

Add comment September 8th, 2016 Headsman

The British military shot 306 soldiers for desertion or cowardice during World War I, but the very first of them was 19-year-old Thomas Highgate on September 8, 1914.

This Kent farmhand and former seaman had enlisted back in 1913, before the world fell apart and that meant that even though Highgate was a trained up and ready to go when the Queen’s Own Royal West Kent Regiment deployed to France as part of the British Expeditionary Force. Young Master Highgate had the honor of participating in the first British engagement of the Great War, the Battle of Mons.

The ensuing Retreat from Mons scrambled the BEF, sprinkling the French countryside with stragglers, though there is little evidence that these men represented a trend towards wholesale desertion as against the disorder inherent to the retreat. The horrors of trench warfare still lay in the (very near) future but perhaps British commanders who aspired to put the Hun to jolly rout were already shaken by the dawning reality of a long and inglorious slog.

“Everyone has a plan ’til they get punched in the mouth,” Mike Tyson once quipped. In Blindfold and Alone: British Military Executions in the Great War, Cathryn Corns and John Hughes-Wilson suggest that BEF Commander-in-Chief John French had become a bit unmanned by the punches the Germans had thrown at his beautiful army* and fired off the memo that would doom Thomas Highgate in an embarrassed panic.

The C in C views with grave displeasure the straggling which still continues … and has reason to think that in certain cases sufficient effort is not being made to rejoin units. … All ranks will in the event of being detached from their units use every effort to [rejoin] … and [will face] severe punishment if there is reason to suppose that every effort has not been made.

“I have the feeling that what we are looking at here is a crisis of confidence amongst the senior officers and not necessarily anything to do with Highgate himself,” said historian Julian Putkowski, author of Shot at Dawn: Executions in World War One by Authority of the British Army Act.

On September 5, Highgate slipped away from his unit to relieve himself, then just stayed away. “I got strolling about, went down into a farm, lay down in an empty house,” he would explain to his court-martial. (For whom Highgate’s inability to account for doffing his military duds played very ill.**) A few hours later, he had the rum luck to be found by a manor gamekeeper who happened to be a former British soldier. “I have lost my army,” Highgate declared, “and I mean to get out of it.” The private suggested to his judges that the sense of this remark was to express his intent to return (i.e., get out of the barn).

The court martial didn’t buy it: here was the public example to make as a sop to the boss’s anti-straggling ukase. There was little time wasted.

Highgate was condemned on the 6th, the death sentence endorsed by superior officers on the 7th, and it was carried into effect on the morning of the 8th — Highgate having the benefit of only 47 minutes’ advance notice, just enough time to scribble a tear-jerking “will” leaving the remains of his salary due to a girlfriend in Dublin. His execution was published in army orders a few days later — a little warning to the rest of the team.

* French would be relieved of BEF command in 1916.

** Dressing in civvies reads pretty badly, but slumming in more comfortable French peasant gear too was a (disturbingly, to the brass) common indiscipline in these days. Adrian Gilbert in Challenge of Battle: The Real Story of the British Army in 1914 quotes a cross directive of Brig. Gen. Forestier-Walker: “No unauthorized articles of dress should be allowed. Articles of civilian pattern are absolutely prohibited … The crime of throwing away clothing must be severely dealt with.” To be fair, Forestier-Walker had in mind ad hoc amendments to the gear, like tossing the army cap in favor of a shady straw hat, more so than wholesale wardrobe changes.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Desertion,England,Execution,France,History,Milestones,Military Crimes,Shot,Soldiers,Wartime Executions

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1736: Captain John Porteous, riotously lynched

Add comment September 7th, 2016 Headsman

Hated Edinburgh gendarme Captain John Porteous was lynched on this date in 1736.

September 7 was the date of Porteous’s own scheduled hanging, for triggering a mob scene at a previous execution we have already visited: Porteous, commanding the guard detail at that hanging, reacted insanely when

some unlucky boys threw a stone or two at the hangman, which is very common, on which the brutal Porteous (who it seems had ordered his party to load their guns with ball) let drive first himself amongst the inocent mob and commanded his men to folow his example which quickly cleansed the street but left three men, a boy and a woman dead upon the spot, besides several others wounded, some of whom are dead since. After this first fire he took it in his head when half up the Bow to order annother voly & kill’d a taylor in a window three storys high, a young gentleman & a son of Mr Matheson the minister’s and several more were dangerously wounded and all this from no more provocation than what I told you before, the throwing of a stone or two that hurt no body.

Nowadays Porteous might cite officer safety and be back on the job in a week’s time. Edinburghers in 1736 gave their law enforcement a bit less latitude, and the city magistrates were obliged to box Porteous up in the Tolbooth lest a baying mob “would have torn him, Council and Guard all in pices.”

Five months remained to Mr. Porteous, a span in which he must have died a thousand deaths as he watched fortune toss his prospects to and fro from within his dungeon. The temper of the city would admit no other result than his conviction and death sentence but officers of the law have strings to pull with the state their muskets uphold. With King George II out of hand,* Queen Caroline granted Porteous a reprieve (not yet an outright clemency) from an intended September 8 date with his own hangman. That intervention was soon overruled by a higher sovereign, for as the Newgate Calendar puts it, “when the populace were informed, such a scheme of revenge was meditated as is perhaps unprecedented.” This was no sudden spasm of public rage; five calculating days had elapsed from the arrival to Edinburgh of the queen’s mercy when

On the 7th of September, 1736, between nine and ten in the evening, a large body of men entered the city of Edinburgh, and seized the arms belonging to the guard; they then patrolled the streets, crying out, ‘All those who dare avenge innocent blood, let them come here.’ They then shut the gates and placed guards at each.


Illustration of the Porteous mob, from Sir Walter Scott’s Heart of Midlothian — which dramatizes the lynching.

The main body of the mob, all disguised, marched in the mean time to the prison; when finding some difficulty in breaking open the doors with hammers, they immediately set fire to it; taking great care that the flames should not spread beyond their proper bounds. The outer door was hardly consumed before they rushed in, and, ordering the keeper to open the door of the captain’s apartment, cried out, ‘Where is the villain, Porteous?’ He replied, ‘Here I am, what do you want with me?’ To which they answered, that they meant to hang him in the Grass Market, the place where he had shed so much innocent blood.

His expostulations were all in vain, they seized him by the legs and arms, and dragged him instantly to the place of execution.

On their arrival, they broke open a shop to find a rope suitable to their purpose, which they immediately fixed round his neck, then throwing the other end over a dyer’s pole, hoisted him up; when he, endeavouring to save himself, fixed his hands between the halter and his neck, which being observed by some of the mob, one of them struck him with an axe, which obliging him to quit his hold, they soon put an end to his life.

When they were satisfied he was dead they immediately dispersed to their several habitations, unmolested themselves, and without molesting anyone else.

Such was the fate of Captain John Porteous, a man possessed of qualifications which, had they been properly applied, might have rendered him an honourable and useful servant of his country. His undaunted spirit and invincible courage would have done honour to the greatest hero of antiquity. But being advanced to power, he became intoxicated with pride, and instead of being the admiration of his fellow citizens, he was detested and hated by all who knew him. The fate of this unhappy man, it is hoped, will he a caution to those who are in power not to abuse it; but, by a humane as well as diligent discharge of their duty, to render themselves worthy members of society.

Porteous did get a solemn memorial stone in Greyfriars Kirkyard once passions cooled … 237 years later.


(cc) image from Kio Stark.

* The Hanoverian king spent most of 1736 away taking a visit (quite unpopular with his English subjects) back to the family’s namesake German principality, which George II also ruled in a personal union.

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Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Arts and Literature,Borderline "Executions",Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Hanged,History,Lynching,Murder,Pardons and Clemencies,Public Executions,Rioting,Scotland

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1952: Wolfgang Kaiser

Add comment September 6th, 2016 Headsman

On this date in 1952, chemistry student Wolfgang Kaiser was guillotined at Dresden as a saboteur.

Back in the years before the Berlin Wall closed East Berlin the Communist half-city’s accessibility to its NATO-aligned western half constantly nettled the security state.

Our man Wolfgang Kaiser (English Wikipedia entry | German) lived in West Berlin but studied in East Berlin — or he did until he lost the spot when trying and failing to transfer to a West Berlin university.

That left Kaiser plenty of time on his hand to vent his political disaffection by working for the anti-communist resistance organization Kampfgruppe gegen Unmenschlichkeit — the “Combat Group Against Inhumanity”. When all was said and done, inhumanity got the best of its combat with Kaiser.

His chemistry background was a welcome skill set for the KgU activists, who put Kaiser to work building fuses for balloons that rained anti-Soviet propaganda leaflets in the east, as well as putting together incendiaries and the like with which to perpetrate nuisance-level harassment. The Stasi had him under surveillance immediately, although his old college buddy was such an amateurish snoop that he flat-out told Kaiser that he was watching him for the East Germans.

Eventually, however, that buddy persuaded Kaiser to turn himself in and become a collaborator himself — with a chance to resume his university career as one of the plums. Instead Kaiser found himself charged up as a saboteur “endangering the peace of the world.” The young man’s fighting spirit was also sabotaged by some sort of misleading representations made to him in his detention, because he entered the show trial believing it to be exactly that: just a show. So mistakenly confident was he that his death sentence was strictly ceremonial that he reportedly bragged about his penthouse accommodations behind bars.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,East Germany,Execution,Germany,Guillotine,History,Terrorists

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1553: Giovanni Mollio, Italian reformer

Add comment September 5th, 2016 Headsman

Franciscan reformer and theologian Giovanni Mollio was burned in Rome as a heretic on September 4 or 5* in 1553.

We have a tricky job to get a fix on Protestants in Italy during the 16th century, but it’s still peculiar that Mollio enjoys a lengthy entry on the German Wikipedia page and none whatsoever on its Italian sister.

A professor most recently at Bologna, Mollio appears to have taken interest in reforming ideas from his earliest appointments in the 1520s at Brescia and Milan — which makes the fact that he survived so long in the environs of Catholicism’s Caput Mundi a remarkable circumstance in itself. He spurned friends’ entreaties to flee into exile in the 1530s and instead obeyed a summons to Rome to justify the dangerous doctrines he espoused, like justification by good works and not venerating holy images.

“I am ready and willing to suffer not only torment and torture, but also for my Lord Jesus Christ’s sake to be burnt alive,” he declared on that occasion. Fortunately for Mollio, Pope Paul III was at this point only beginning to feel out the Vatican’s response to Luther and Calvin, and the Counter-Reformation had not yet begun in earnest; Mollio was gave an erudite defense to much curial chin-stroking, was admonished on some points, and booted from the Bolognese faculty. He retired to Naples where he joined the circles of heretical elites orbiting Juan de Valdes, whose number would in time contribute several martyrs.

Valdes was more a humanist interested in reforming the Church than a schismatic looking to break for it but the space for such distinctions was rapidly narrowing. Valdes died (no martyrdom) in 1541, and tolerance for his friends’ subversive salons did not long outlive him.

By 1543 Mollio really did go on the run. But he never made it out of Italy, which would probably have been the necessary condition for dying in bed at an advanced age.

Florence clapped him in its castle dungeon for four years until influential friends finally got him released to the custody of a Ravenna abbot; once that sanctuary lapsed he was detained by the papal legate for a time, although again released and watchfully permitted to continue teaching and preaching.

This outsized toleration came to an abrupt end with the death of Pope Paul III in 1549. Paul’s successor Julius III meant to be the hammer of the heretics, and soon had Mollio brought in chains to Rome. He could not be moved to recant during many months’ imprisonment.

On September 5, 1553, Mollio, a Perugian named Giovanni Teodori (also known as Tisserano), and a number of others accused of heresy faced public trial by the Inquisition in the Church of Santa Maria sopra Minerva. Only Mollio and Teodori refused to recant.

Permitted to defend himself, Mollio scalded the cardinals seated to judge him — and in Italian, so that everyone present would understand it.

As for you, cardinals and bishops, if I were satisfied that you justly obtained that power which you assume to yourselves, and that you had risen to your eminence by virtuous deeds, and not by blind ambition and the arts of profligacy, I would not say a word to you.

But since I see and know on the best grounds, that you have set moderation, and honesty, and honour, and virtue at defiance, I am constrained to treat you without ceremony, and to declare that your power is not from God but the devil.

If it were apostolical, as you would make the poor world believe, then your doctrine and life would resemble those of the apostles. When I perceive the filth and falsehood and profaneness with which it is overspread, what can I think or say of your church, but that it is a receptacle of thieves and a den of robbers?

What is your doctrine but a dream, — a lie forged by hypocrites?

Your very countenances prolaim that your belly is your god. Your great object is to seize and amass wealth by every species of injustice and cruelty. You thirst without ceasing for the blood of the saints.

Can you be the successors of the holy apostles, and vicars of Jesus Christ — you who despise Christ and his word, who act a if you did not believe that there is a God in heaven, who persecute to the death his faithful ministers, make his commandments of no effect, and tyrannize over the consciences of his saints?

Wherefore I appeal from your sentence, and summon you, O cruel tyrants and murderers, to answer before the judgment seat of Christ at the last day, where your pompous titles and gorgeous trappings will not dazzle, nor your guards and torturing apparatus terrify us. And in testimony of this, take back that which you have given me!

And so saying, Mollio flung across the flagstones the penitential candle that he had been made to bear with the rest of the accused.

The furious judges ordered Mollio and Teodori too put to immediate death, and they were promptly dragged from the church to the Campo de’ Fiori and consumed at the stake.

* There are dueling citations for September 4 and September 5 to be found. With hindsight, I lean uncertainly toward September 4 based on the dating of the last will drawn up with him by the Brotherhood of Saint-Jean-Décollé, the spiritual confraternity charged with consoling him in the short space between sentence and execution. I’m comforted in this attribution by this date being given in a credible Italian dictionary and even a recent exhibition dedicated to this specific execution — where you’d think the curators would be on-point on the matter.

The September 5 date, which I now suspect might be mistaken, appears to derive from a short pamphlet containing an eyewitness account titled Historia de Montalcino Romae interfecto propter fidei confessionem, nonis Sept. anno 1553 (“nonis Septembris” meaning “5th of September”). This report started circulating “substantially outside of Italy” in 1554 and built up our guy’s fame outside his homelands. Although this too is a strong primary source, it’s a bit further removed than the brothers attending the man at the hour of his death, and could plausibly have been a date misremembered after the fact.

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Entry Filed under: 16th Century,Burned,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,God,Heresy,History,Intellectuals,Italy,Martyrs,Papal States,Public Executions,Religious Figures

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1821: Jose Miguel Carrera, Chilean patriot

Add comment September 4th, 2016 Headsman

Mercurial Chilean patriot Jose Miguel Carrera was shot on this date in 1821.

Born in a Santiago that was then a part of Spain’s Captaincy General of Chile, Jose (English Wikipedia entry | the far more detailed Spanish) was an officer in the mother country fighting Napoleon when the latter deposed the Spanish king. As the collapse of the Spanish monarchy nicely dovetailed with the scandal-plagued collapse of its Chilean viceroy, there was soon a semi-independent junta government directing the Captaincy.*

Carrera hurried home to join it … and in 1811, he seized control of it in a coup d’etat.** As a progressive dictator type, Carrera would go on to promulgate a constitution, set the stage for slavery abolition by declaring “freedom of the womb”, introduce the country’s first printing press, and establish diplomatic relations with the United States. Carrera’s sister Javiera even sewed the first Chilean flag.

The entire Carrera family would play a leading part in their nation’s birth throes, although whether for good or for ill history has hotly disputed. Our man Jose put himself at the head of the army to meet the Spanish reconquista force in the field — leaving his brother Juan Jose at the head of an unstable government — and by 1814 was mired in a virtual civil war against his former subordinate turned rival Bernardo O’Higgins. Spain (temporarily) recaptured Chile from its divided patriots, who by and large fled into exile.

Never a soul to eschew adventure, Carrera spent the next several years in derring-do plots. He finagled a flotilla from the Yankees, sailed it back to Argentina where he was arrested, and escaped captivity to Montevideo from which perch he waged a propaganda campaign against the Argentine government. By that time his enmity with Argentine revolutionary Jose de San Martin was quite personal: the O’Higgins-aligned San Martin had captured Carrera’s brothers Juan Jose and Luis and had them shot in Mendoza in 1818.

Carrera threw himself into the federalist war against San Martin’s unitary government in Argentina. The hated O’Higgins — who had by now declared Chilean independence and made it stick — routed aid to his longtime rival’s enemies. He was at last betrayed to his death after a defeat at Punta del Medano, and like his siblings, given over to a firing squad in Mendoza.


The Last Moments of J.M. Carrera.

* Present-day Chile’s independence day, September 18, marks the founding of this junta in 1810. It was Carrera who established the holiday.

** Actually Carrera authored two distinct coups in 1811: one to replace the junta with a new council, in September 1811 — and a second to replace that new council with himself that November. In January of 1812, he then replaced his November governing council in a move that essentially made him the dictator. Let’s say that institution-building wasn’t Carrera’s thing.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Argentina,Capital Punishment,Chile,Cycle of Violence,Death Penalty,Execution,Famous,Heads of State,History,Politicians,Power,Shot,Soldiers,Wartime Executions

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1806: John Docke Rouvelett, malicious prosecutor

1 comment September 3rd, 2016 Headsman

From the Newgate Calendar:

John Docke Rouvelett, alias Romney

After maliciously prosecuting a Woman he was executed at Ilchester, at the Summer Assizes, 1806, in Somersetshire, for Forgery

JOHN DOCKE ROUVELETT, a notorious swindler, was well known at Bath, where he passed for a West Indian of considerable fortune and family. He was about forty years of age, and had the appearance of a creole. He lived with a woman of the name of Elizabeth Barnet, who passed for his wife. Having been arrested for debt, he was occasionally visited by this woman in the Fleet Prison, and was afterwards removed, by habeas corpus, into Somersetshire, on a charge of forgery.

Conscious that Elizabeth Barnet was the only witness against him, by whose evidence he could be convicted of the forgery, as well as of perjury, another case also pending — Rouvelett having falsely sworn a debt against Mr Dorant, of the York Hotel, Albemarle Street — he had her taken up for a supposed robbery, and charged her with stealing his purse in the Fleet Prison, containing forty guineas, half-a-guinea, and a valuable diamond.

This case of singular atrocity came on at the Old Bailey, Saturday, 5th of July, 1806. The young woman was fashionably attired, and her appearance excited universal sympathy. Rouvelett was brought up from Ilchester jail, ironed, to prosecute on his indictment. An application was made to put off the trial, on the affidavit of the prosecutor, which stated that some material witnesses at Liverpool had not had sufficient notice to attend. The object of this attempt was to prevent the woman appearing against him on his trial for forgery, and also to prevent her becoming a witness against him in the case of perjury, as already mentioned. The recorder saw through the transactions, which he described as the most foul and audacious that ever were attempted. He ordered the trial to proceed.

Rouvelett, who called himself a gentleman, stated that the prisoner was with him on the 11th of June, 1805, when he drew half-a-guinea from his purse and gave it to a messenger; after which he put the purse containing the property as stated in the indictment into the pocket of a surtout coat, which was hanging up in the room, in which was the ring, worth thirty pounds. There were no other persons in the room but the prisoner and himself, and in twenty minutes after she was gone he missed his property from the greatcoat pocket. He concluded that the money was safe, as the prisoner had gone to Dorant’s hotel, Albemarle Street, and he did not suppose her capable of robbing him. She, however, absconded, and he never saw her again until she was arrested at his suit, jointly with Dorant, in an action of trover for twenty thousand pounds for deeds, mortgages and bonds, bearing interest, for which bail was given. He had no opportunity of bringing her to justice for the alleged robbery, being himself a prisoner. (The recorder here remarked that the prosecutor could find the prisoner for a civil suit, although he could not find her for the criminal act.)

On the cross-examination of the prosecutor he said he was born at St Martin’s, in the West Indies, and had been at most of the islands in that quarter. His uncle was a planter in the West Indies, and he lived on such means, whilst in England, as his family afforded him. He was brought up in Amsterdam, at the house of Mr Hope, banker; after which he became a lieutenant in the British Army (the 87th Regiment). He knew Mr Hope, of Harley Street, Cavendish Square, and Mr Hope knew him to be Mr Rouvelett, of St Martin’s, for the two families had been closely connected for a hundred years. He lived in England on remittances from his uncle, in goods or bills, but he had no property of his own. Messrs Stephens & Boulton used to pay witness his remittances at Liverpool, but he could not tell who paid them in London. The recorder observed that the witness should not be pressed too far to give an account of himself, as he (the prisoner) stood charged with forgery. Being asked if he, the witness, had not said he would be revenged on the prisoner, as she was intimate with Dorant, and charge her with a felony, he answered that he did not recollect having said so; but the question being pressed, he partly acknowledged it. The purse, which was empty, witness acknowledged was found under the pillow, on the 12th of June, the day after the alleged robbery, by his room chum, a man of the name of Cummings. The prisoner was with him in prison after the 12th of June, although he had said she had absconded.

The recorder did not suffer the cause to be further proceeded in, and directed the jury to acquit the prisoner; he also observed this was the most foul charge he had ever heard of.

The disgust of the persons in court as the fellow retired was manifested by hisses and groans in such a manner as baffled the efforts of the officers of justice for some time to suppress.

The trial of this malicious offender, who was thus happily disappointed in his views, came on at Wells, on Tuesday, 12th of August, 1806, before Baron Thompson, and excited uncommon interest throughout the county of Somerset.

The prisoner, John Docke Romney alias Rouvelett, was indicted for having feloniously and knowingly forged a certain bill of exchange, dated Grenada, 10th of November, 1804, for four hundred and twenty pounds sterling, payable at nine months’ sight to the order of George Danley, Esq., and drawn by Willis & Co. on Messrs Child & Co. in London, with the forged acceptance of Messrs Child & Co. on the face thereof, with intent to defraud Mary Simeon.

Mr Burrough entered into the details of the case, which were afterwards substantiated by the evidence.

Mr Philip George, the younger clerk to the Mayor of Bath, stated that the bill in question was delivered to him by the Mayor of Bath, and that he had ever since kept the bill in his own custody.

Mrs Mary Simeon, dealer in laces, at Bath, deposed that in April, 1805, she lived at Bath. The prisoner came to her house on or about the 16th of March 1805; he looked at several articles in which she dealt, bought a fan, paid for it, and said he should bring his wife with him in the afternoon. He accordingly did so, and brought Elizabeth Barnet as his wife, Mrs Romney. He asked whether Mrs Simeon had a Brussels veil of a hundred and fifty guineas’ value. The witness answered she had not. He then bought two yards of lace, at four guineas a yard, and went away. This happened on a Saturday. The following Monday he came again, accompanied by his wife, looked at a lace cloak, at veils worth five and twenty guineas, and other goods, but did not buy any. In the course of the week he called again, and proposed to purchase a quantity of goods from the witness, if she would take a bill of a long date, accepted by Messrs Child & Co., bankers, in London. Witness answered she had no objections to take a bill accepted by such a house. He returned in two or three days and purchased articles to the value of about one hundred and forty pounds, which, with other goods afterwards bought, and with money advanced by her, made the prisoner her debtor to the amount of two hundred and ninety-nine pounds. He bought all the articles himself, unaccompanied by his wife. In the month of April, between the 20th and 24th, the prisoner proposed paying for the different articles, and he brought his wife to the house, when a meeting took place between them and the witness, and her brother, Mr Du Hamel. He said: “I am going to London, and I should like to settle with you. This is the bill I proposed to you to take; it is accepted by Child & Co., bankers, in London”; and, turning over the bill, he added: “The endorser is as good as the acceptors.”

The bill was here produced, and proved by Mrs Simeon to be the same which the prisoner gave to her in April, 1805.

The witness then took the bill, and her brother, Mr Du Hamel, paid to him, for her, thirty-five pounds, which, with the articles previously bought, made the whole of the prisoner’s debt to her two hundred and ninety-nine pounds. In her presence he wrote on the bill the name of John Romney, as his name. He afterwards went to London by the mail. She sent the bill to London the next day.

The conversation which passed between her and the prisoner, in the presence of her brother and Elizabeth Barnet, was entirely in the French language. He left his wife at her house, where she slept. While he was absent the witness received intelligence from London that the bill was a forgery, and she instantly wrote a letter to the prisoner, informing him of it. He came to Bath in consequence of the letter, late on a Sunday night, and a meeting took place then at her house with him, his wife, herself, her brother, and her solicitor, Mr Luke Evill, of Bath. The conversation then passed in English. Several questions were put to the prisoner by herself and by Mr Evill. Mr Evill asked him whether he had any business with W. A. Bailey, the endorser, which induced him to take the bill. He said Mr Bailey had sold some sugar for him. She asked him if Bailey lived in London; he replied at some inn or coffee-house, the name of which she did not recollect. He was then asked in what island or islands Mr Bailey’s property was situated. He mentioned two or three islands in the West Indies, but he did not know in which of them Mr Bailey was at that time. The prisoner then inquired where the bill was. Being informed by the witness that it was in London, he said she must write to get it sent back. She, however, declared that such an application would be unavailing, and the prisoner pressed her to go to London herself. She refused to go alone, and he entreated Mr Evill to accompany her, saying that he would give Mr Evill twenty pounds to defray the expenses of the journey, which he accordingly did. She set out at ten o’clock that night, accompanied by Mr Evill, and obtained the bill from Messrs Sloper & Allen, in whose custody it was, by paying three hundred guineas, which was all the money she then had at her bankers’. She brought the bill back to Bath, having stopped but one day in London; but the prisoner was not at Bath when she returned. He had left some property at her house with his wife, who had removed from Sidney House, with his clothes, etc. The bill remained after this in her custody about a twelvemonth, and was given up to Mr Evill by her brother. Mr Dorant paid the whole of the debt due by the prisoner on the 6th of May, 1805, a few days after the prisoner finally left Bath.

Upon the cross-examination of Mrs Simeon, it appeared that she considered the prisoner and Elizabeth Barnet as man and wife. It was not until May, 1806, that she appeared before the Mayor of Bath against the prisoner, whom she knew to have been in the Fleet Prison. She did not go before the magistrate at the solicitation of Mr Dorant, nor did she at any time, nor on any account, receive any money from Dorant, but what was actually and fairly due to her by the prisoner.

Mr Du Hamel, brother of Mrs Simeon, corroborated all the principal facts stated by his sister.

Mr Whelan deposed that he was a clerk in the house of Messrs Child & Co. He had filled that situation for about nine years, and, from his knowledge of the business, was enabled to state their manner of accepting bills. The house had no correspondence whatever at Grenada by the name of Willis & Co., and the acceptance which appeared on the face of the bill was not the acceptance of Messrs Child & Co.

Elizabeth Barnet was next called. She deposed that she became acquainted with the prisoner in the month of September, 1804, when at Liverpool. About a fortnight after she first saw him she began to live with him, and continued till the 6th of June, 1805; during all that period she passed under the name of Mrs Romney. She left Liverpool in the month of January, 1805, and came to London with the prisoner. They then took lodgings at Mr Dorant’s hotel, in Albemarle Street. The account he gave of himself to her was that he was a West Indian planter, and that he had estates in Martinique and St Kitts. They remained between two and three months at Mr Dorant’s hotel, during which time they were not visited by anybody except a Mr Hope, whom she remembered seeing with the prisoner. This Mr Hope was not represented to her as coming from Holland. She accompanied Mr Romney to Bath, and on their arrival there they lodged at the White Hart Inn for about a fortnight previous to her lodging at Madame Simeon’s. Soon after their arrival at the White Hart she went along with the prisoner to Madame Simeon’s to look at some laces and a black cloak. None of these articles, however, was purchased at that time by the prisoner, they being afterwards bought when she was not present. She heard the prisoner state to Madame Simeon that he would give her a bill of exchange, accepted by Child & Co. of London. She did not then see any bill in his possession, but saw him writing one three days afterwards, when he sent the witness for some red ink. Two or three days after the prisoner gave the bill to Madame Simeon he was much disturbed, and on being asked the reason he said he would be hanged. He asked her to fetch him his writing-desk, which she did. He then took out a large parcel of papers and burned them. She had no opportunity of seeing what those papers were. She said to him: “Were the papers any harm?” He said: “Yes; and there was a paper which must not be seen.” She never lived with the prisoner after the 6th of June, 1805. She, however, remembered visiting him in the Fleet Prison. She was soon afterwards arrested at Bath, at the prisoner’s instance, for the sum of twenty thousand, three hundred and twenty pounds, and carried to Winchester jail, and afterwards removed to the King’s Bench. She saw the prisoner on this occasion, and again at the Old Bailey, when he was examined as a witness against her on her trial. He then charged her with having robbed him on the 11th of June, 1805, of forty guineas and a diamond ring, when he was in the Fleet Prison. This charge was totally without foundation, as was also the alleged debt of twenty thousand, three hundred and twenty pounds. She never had any transactions in her life to which such a charge could refer.

On her cross-examination she deposed that her real name was Elizabeth Barnet. She was the daughter of a farmer in Shropshire, from whom she had had a plain education. She left her father when nineteen years of age and went to Liverpool, where she lodged with a Mrs Barns. She lived in Liverpool about nine or ten months. After she had left off seeing Mr Rouvelett in the Fleet she lodged at a Mr Fox’s, in Henrietta Street, Covent Garden, for seven or eight weeks. She afterwards went to Berry Street.

To some additional interrogatories by Mr Burrough this witness further deposed that the prisoner Romney sued out a writ against her for twelve hundred pounds, exclusive of the sum before mentioned. This was after she had ceased to visit him in prison and had gone to reside at her father’s, and it was also previous to the arrest for the twenty thousand, three hundred and twenty pounds already taken notice of. No demand was made against her by the prisoner when she visited him in the jail.

The jury, having consulted for a few minutes, returned a verdict of guilty of forging the acceptance, and of uttering it knowing it to be forged.

The trial lasted nearly twelve hours, and the court was filled in every part. Among the audience were the first characters in the country. This notorious offender was executed at Ilchester, pursuant to his sentence, on the 3rd of September, 1806. He was dressed in a blue coat with metal buttons, striped trousers, green slippers, and a fur cap.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Counterfeiting,Crime,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Hanged,Pelf,Public Executions,The Worm Turns

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1778: Samuel Lyons and Samuel Ford, Fort Mifflin deserters

Add comment September 2nd, 2016 Headsman

In Philadelphia this date in 1778, “Lyons, Ford and Wilson, late Lieutenants, and John Lawrence, late gunner, in the navy of this State, were taken from the gaol to one of the gallies lying off Market Street wharf, where the two former were shot agreeable to their sentence, but the two latter reprieved.” (Pennsylvania Evening Post, September 2, 1778)

Samuel Lyons, Samuel Ford, John Wilson and John Lawrence all served on various of the American “row galley” fleet that gave the American revolutionaries at least some seaborne presence in their fight against the world’s preeminent naval power.

The four, executed and pardoned alike, had deserted the American garrison when that preeminent power put Fort Mifflin in the Delaware River under siege the previous autumn. (There’s a very detailed account of this operation here; the British eventually captured the fort from its badly outnumbered defenders.)

While desertion between the antagonists was a common phenomenon in the American Revolution, this made for an especially bad look a year later once the British abandoned Philadelphia to the aggressively triumphalist Patriots.

Even so, the last-minute clemencies alongside the actual shootings were also very much a part of the Continental Army’s delicate enforcement of discipline, in an environment where it feared that being either too lenient or too harsh could fatally undermine the tenuous morale of the rank and file. Every enforcement was considered in the light of its public impression.

“The number of spectators was very great,” our short report in the Evening Post concluded. “And it is hoped the melancholy scene will have a proper effect upon the profligate and thoughtless, who do not seriously consider that the crime of desertion is attended with the dreadful consequences of wilful perjury.”

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Desertion,England,Execution,History,Last Minute Reprieve,Military Crimes,Not Executed,Occupation and Colonialism,Pardons and Clemencies,Pennsylvania,Public Executions,Shot,Soldiers,U.S. Military,USA,Wartime Executions

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