Archive for March, 2018

1794: Madame Lavergne and Monsieur Lavergne, united in love

Add comment March 31st, 2018 Headsman

The below will be found in Elizabet Starling’s Noble Deeds of Woman, Or, Examples of Female Courage and Virtue; similar glosses on the same narrative are afoot in several other public domain volumes.

As will be affirmed by a glance at a converter for France’s revolutionary calendar, this text badly botches its translation of the date of “11 Germinal” — another reminder that nobody cares about the dates. “Germinal” means “seed” and so is of course a spring month; there are rosters of the Paris Terror victims available which confirm that March 31 is the correct execution date for both Monsieur and Madame Lavergne.

CONSTANCY OF MADAME LAVERGNE.

Mightier far
Than strength of nerve or sinew, or the sway
Of magic potent over sun and star,
Is love, though oft to agony distrest,
And though his favorite seat be feeble woman’s breast.

WORDSWORTH.

Madame Lavergne had not long been married when her husband, who was governor of Longwy, was obliged to surrender that fort to the Prussians. The French however, succeeded in regaining possession of the place, when M. Lavergne was arrested and conducted to one of the prisons in Paris. His wife followed him to the capital: she was then scarcely twenty years of age, and one of the loveliest women of France. Her husband was more than sixty, yet his amiable qualities first won her esteem, and his tenderness succeeded to inspire her with an affection as sincere and fervent as that which he possessed for her. While the unfortunate Lavergne expected every hour to be summoned before the dreaded tribunal, he was attacked with illness in his dungeon. At any other moment this affliction would have been a subject of grief and inquietude to Madame Lavergne; under her present circumstances, it was a source of hope and consolation. She could not believe there existed a tribunal so barbarous as to bring a man before the judgment-seat who was suffering under a burning fever. A perilous disease, she imagined, was the present safeguard of her husband’s life; and she flattered herself that the fluctuation of events would change his destiny, and finish in his favor that which nature had so opportunely begun. Vain expectation! The name of Lavergne had been irrevocably inscribed on the fatal list of the 11th Germinal, of the second year of the republic, (June 25th, 1794,) [sic; see above -ed.] and he must on that day submit to his fate.

Madame Lavergne, informed of this decision, had recourse to tears and supplications. Persuaded that she could soften the hearts of the representatives of the people by a faithful picture of Lavergne’s situation, she presented herself before the Committee of General Safety: she demanded that her husband’s trial should be delayed, whom she represented as a prey to a dangerous and afflicting disease, deprived of the strength of his faculties, and of all those powers, either of body or mind, which could enable him to confront his intrepid and arbitrary accusers. ‘Imagine, oh citizens!’ said the agonized wife of Lavergne, ‘such an unfortunate being as I have described dragged before a tribunal about to decide upon his life, while reason abandons him, while he cannot understand the charges brought against him, nor has sufficient power of utterance to declare his innocence. His accusers, in full possession of their moral and physical strength, and already inflamed with hatred against him, are instigated even by his helplessness to more than ordinary exertions of malice: while the accused, subdued by bodily suffering and mental infirmity, is appalled or stupefied, and barely sustains the dregs of his miserable existence. Will you, oh citizens of France! call a man to trial while in the phrensy of delirium? Will you summon him, who perhaps at this moment expires upon the bed of pain, to hear that irrevocable sentence, which admits of no medium between liberty or the scaffold? and, if you unite humanity with justice, can you suffer in old man — ?’ At these words, every eye was turned on Madame Lavergne, whose youth and beauty, contrasted with the idea of an aged and infirm husband, gave rise to very different emotions in the breasts of the members of the committee from those with which she had so eloquently sought to inspire them. They interrupted her with coarse jests and indecent raillery. One of the members assured her, with a scornful smile, that, young and handsome as she was, it would not be so difficult as she appeared to imagine to find means of consolation for the loss of a husband, who, in the common course of nature, had lived already long enough. Another of them, equally brutal and still more ferocious, added, that the fervor with which she had pleaded the cause of such a husband was an unnatural excess, and therefore the committee could not attend to her petition.

Horror, indignation, and despair, took possession of the soul of Madame Lavergne; she had heard the purest and most exalted affection for one of the worthiest of men condemned as a degraded passion; she had been wantonly insulted, while demanding justice, by the administrators of the laws of a nation; and she rushed in silence from the presence of these inhuman men, to hide the bursting agony of her sorrows.

One faint ray of hope yet arose to cheer the gloom of Madame Lavergne’s despondency. Dumas was one of the judges of the tribunal, and him she had known previous to the Revolution. Her repugnance to seek this man, in his new career, was subdued by a knowledge of his power and her hopes of his influence. She threw heiself at his feet, bathed them with her tears, and conjured him, by all the claims of mercy and humanity, to prevail on the tribunal to delay the trial of her husband till the our of his recovery. Dumas replied, coldly, that it did not belong to him to grant the favor she solicited, nor should he choose to make such a request of the tribunal; then, in a tone somewhat animated by insolence and sarcasm, he added, ‘And is it, then, so great a misfortune, madame, to be delivered from a troublesome husband of sixty, whose death will leave you at liberty to employ your youth and charms more usefully?’

Such a reiteration of insult roused the unfortunate wife of Lavergne to desperation; she shrieked with insupportable anguish, and, rising from her humble posture, she extended her arms towards Heaven, and exclaimed, ‘Just God! will not the crimes of these atrocious men awaken Thy vengeance? Go, monster!’ she cried to Dumas; ‘I no longer want thy aid, — I no longer need to supplicate thy pity; away to the tribunal! — there will I also appear; then shall it be known whether I deserve the outrages which thou and thy base associates have heaped upon me.’ From the presence of Dumas, Madame Lavergne repaired to the hall of the tribunal, and mixing with the crowd, waited in silence for the hour of trial. The barbarous proceedings of the day commenced, and on M. Lavergne being called for, the unfortunate man was carried into the hall by the gaolers, supported on a mattress. To the few questions which were proposed to him, he replied in a feeble and dying voice, and the fatal sentence of death was pronounced upon him.

“Scarcely had the sentence passed the lips of the judge, when Madame Lavergne cried, with a loud voice, ‘Vive le roi!’ The persons nearest the place whereon she stood eagerly surrounded, and endeavored to silence her; but the more the astonishment and alarm of the multitude augmented, the more loud and vehement became her cries of ‘Vive le roi!’ The guard was called, and directed to lead her away. She was followed by a numerous crowd, mute with consternation and pity; but the passages and staircases still resounded every instant with ‘Vive le roi!’ till she was conducted into one of the rooms belonging to the court of justice, into which the public accuser came to interrogate her on the motives of her extraordinary conduct.

‘I am not actuated,’ she answered, ‘by any sudden impulse of despair or revenge for the condemnation of M. Lavergne, but from the love of royalty, which is rooted in my heart. I adore the system that you have destroyed. I do not expect any mercy from you, for I am your enemy; I abhor your republic, and will persist in the confession I have publicly made, as long as I live.’

Such a declaration was without reply, and the name of Madame Lavergne was instantly added to the list of suspected persons: a few minutes afterwards, she was brought before the tribunal, where she again uttered her own accusation, and was condemned to die. From that instant, the agitation of her spirits subsided, serenity took possession of her mind, and her beautiful countenance announced only the peace and satisfaction of her soul.

On the day of execution, Madame Lavergne first ascended the cart, and desired to be so placed that she might behold her husband. The unfortunate Lavergne had fallen into a swoon, and was in that condition extended upon straw in the cart, at the feet of his wife, without any signs of life. On the way to the place of execution, the motion of the cart had loosened the bosom of Lavergne’s shirt, and exposed his breast to the scorching rays of the sun, till his wife entreated the executioner to take a pin from her handkerchief and fasten his shirt. Shortly afterwards, Madame Lavergne, whose attention never wandered from her husband for a single instant, perceived that his senses returned, and called him by his name; at the sound of that voice, whose melody had been so long withheld from him, Lavergne raised his eyes, and fixed them on her with a look at once expressive of terror and affection. ‘Do not be alarmed,’ she said; ‘it is your faithful wife who called you; you know I could not live without you, and we are going to die together.’ Lavergne burst into tears of gratitude, which relieved the oppression of his heart, and he became once more able to express his love and admiration of his virtuous wife. The scaffold, which was intended to separate, united them forever.

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Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,France,Guillotine,History,Mass Executions,Public Executions,Soldiers,Women

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1900: Joseph Hurst

Add comment March 30th, 2018 Headsman

On this date in 1900, Joseph Hurst hanged in Glendive, Montana for murdering Sheriff Dominick Cavanaugh — whom Hurst had run against in the most recent election. A literal life-and-death ballot!

Did he assassinate a political opponent to gain his office? (Hurst was briefly appointed to the sheriff’s post after Cavanaugh’s murder, before the investigation turned against him.) Or, was he railroaded by a prejudiced town? “If the evidence upon which this man has been convicted and twice sentenced to death, had been laid before me as the prosecuting officer of this county,” wrote another Montana district attorney in a widely circulated missive, “I should be ashamed to think I had compelled Hurst to employ a lawyer and submit to a prosecution before a magistrate.”

The question generated a furious controversy in its time, inundating Gov. Robert Burns Smith with a record deluge of mercy appeals from around the American West. Newspapers drew up column-inches for vigorous briefs as to Hurst’s innocence or guilt.

As is frequently the case, partisan political fissures reached all the way to bedrock disagreement about reality itself, for although Hurst expressed his innocence on the scaffold the respective sides circulated opposing contentions about whether he did or did not privately confess the crime in the end.

A representative bit of the original newspaper coverage. More can be found in Officer Down, by Jim Jones.


Anaconda Standard, February 28, 1900


Anaconda Standard, March 4, 1900


Anaconda Standard, March 13, 1900


Helena Independent, March 30, 1900.


Butte Weekly Miner, April 5, 1900


A different story from the very same Butte Weekly Miner, April 5, 1900

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,History,Montana,Murder,Politicians,USA,Wrongful Executions

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1825: El Pirata Cofresi

Add comment March 29th, 2018 Headsman

I have killed hundreds with my own hands, and I know how to die. Fire!

-Last words of Roberto Cofresi

A monument to Roberto Cofresi rises from the water in his native Cabo Rojo.

On this date in 1825, the Puerto Rican pirate Roberto Cofresi was publicly shot in San Juan with his crew.

The family of “El Pirata” — his father was an emigre who fled Trieste after killing a man in a duel — bequeathed him the upbringing and honorific (“Don”) due to a gentleman without any of the money. Dunned by multiplying creditors, he took to the sea to keep his finances afloat and for a time made a legitimate living in the late 1810s as a piscator and a ferryman. Soon, the crises in Puerto Rico’s economy and governance prodded him into more adventurous pursuits, beginning with highway robbery around his hometown of Cabo Rojo. Wanted posters testify to his landside notoriety; soon, he would combine his vocations as a buccanneer.

In his brief moment, about 1823-1825, he became one of the Caribbean’s most feared marauders, and one of the last consequential pirates to haunt those waters. His career plundering prizes and evading manhunts is recounted in surprising detail on the man’s Wikipedia page, which is in turn an extended summary of an out-of-print Spanish-language book. Given the development of maritime policing by this point it was an achievement to extend his career so long … but everyone has to retire, one way or another.


Norwich Courier, April 27, 1825

A proclamation issued justifying the execution testifies both to the example authorities wished to be understood by his fate, and their awareness that they contended with a strain of sympathy for the outlaw. This is as quoted in Southern Chronicle (Camden, South Carolina, USA), July 2, 1825:

The name of Roberto Cofresi has become famous for robberies and acts of atrocity, and neither the countryman, the merchant nor the laborer could consider himself secure from the grasp of that wretch and his gang. If you ought to pity the lot of these unhappy men, you are bound also to give thanks to the Almighty, that the island has been delivered from a herd of wild beasts, which have attempted our ruin by all the means in their power. You are also bound to live on the alert, and be prepared, in conjunction with the authorities to attack those who may hereafter be so daring as to follow their example.

His throwback profession, his acclaimed charisma, his talent for eluding pursuit, and a purported streak of Robin Hood-esque social banditry all helped to make him a legend that has long outlived the forgotten Spanish agents who hunted him. With his threat to the sea lanes long gone, he’s become a beloved staple of literature, folklore, and popular history in Puerto Rico and especially his native Cabo Rojo. Again, a lovingly curated Wikipedia page on this posthumous career awaits the curious reader.


Label for a Ron Kofresi-brand rum, which one might use to toast his memory with a piña colada: it’s a drink he’s alleged to have invented.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Arts and Literature,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Famous,History,Mass Executions,Myths,Occupation and Colonialism,Outlaws,Piracy,Pirates,Public Executions,Puerto Rico,Shot,Spain

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1806: Francisco Dos Santos

Add comment March 28th, 2018 Headsman


New-York Weekly Journal, April 20, 1741

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Hanged,History,Murder,New York,Public Executions,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,USA

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1728: Five at Tyburn

Add comment March 27th, 2018 Headsman

The Ordinary of Newgate (in this case, James Guthrie) furnishes us the following “ACCOUNT, Of the Behaviour, Confession, and dying Words of the Malefactors who were Executed at Tyburn, on Wednesday the 27th of this Instant March, 1728.”:


***N. B. Whereas in the last Dying Speech of the Malefactors, who were executed on Monday the 12th of February last, several literal Mistakes and other gross Errors, which perverted the Sense, escap’d Correction, through the Hast of the Press: The Readers are hereby desir’d to excuse the same, and may be assur’d that effectual Care shall be taken to prevent the like for the future, by printing the Dying Speeches correctly.

AT the King’s Commission of Oyer and Terminer, and Jail Delivery of Newgate, held (before the Right Honourable Sir EDWARD BECHER, Lord Mayor of the City of London; the Honourable Mr. Baron Comyns; the Hon. Mr. Justice Probyn; the Hon. Mr. Baron Thompson, Recorder of the City of London; and John Raby, Esq, Serjeant at Law; and others his Majesty’s Justices of Jail Delivery, and Oyer and Terminer aforesaid: Together with several of his Majesty’s Justices of the Peace for the said City of London and County of Middlesex) at Justice-Hall, in the Old-Baily, on Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Monday, and Tuesday, being the 28th and 29th of February, and the 1st, 2d, 4th, and 5th of March, 1728. in the first Year of his Majesty’s Reign.

Six Men, viz Benjamin Branch, Martin Bellamy, William Shann, John Potter, James Stagles, alias Howard, and Richard Kelme; and two Women, viz. Margaret Wallis, alias Staineus, and Margaret Murphy, were found guilty of capital Offences by the Jury, and received Sentence of Death.

While under Sentence, they having been for the most part young People of lewd and dissolute Lives, and consequently ignorant of Religion, both in Speculation and Practice, were instructed in those Principles, which are necessary to be known by us, both as Men and Christians. I shew’d them, that Nature itself teacheth us, that unto God the Sovereign Lord of the Universe, Worship, Reverence, and Homage is due from all his Creatures, and that Man who (as the Heathens, who were only led by the light of Nature, acknowledged) was form’d after the divine Image, and substituted Lord of this inferior Orb, was in a more especial Manner bound, in Token of his dependance, to give all due Obedience, by dedicating himself to the Service of God, his Creator and special Benefactor. But if they fell short in complying with the first Principles of natural Religion, which is insufficient for Salvation; how much greater must their Guilt be, who being descended of Christian Parents, and living in the midst of so great Light, had despised those glorious Revelations, which were intended to elevate and perfect our depraved Nature? That Theft and Robbery were destructive of all human Society, and reduc’d Man, who is made after the Image of God, who is the God of Order, into the State of savage Animals and Birds of Prey. Besides, that the Commission of the Sin of Theft and Robbery was attended with innumerable other, the worst of Sins; such as a tendency to Murder, and commonly a continued Practice of Lying, Drinking, Whoring, and many such like Vices; and it is evident, that those who give themselves up to this wicked Course of Life, are the vilest Wretches, and abandon’d to every thing which is good. I instructed them in the Nature of the Christian Sacraments, both of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, how they are Seals of the Gospel-Covenant, and Pledges of all those Blessings procur’d to us by the Sufferings and Death of our Lord Jesus; and that the Lord’s Supper was a proper Provision to strengthen our Faith, in order to prepare us for a new State of Life, and that never-ending Eternity, upon which they were to enter.

While these and the like Exhortations were us’d, John Potter, James Stagles, Richard Kelme, Margaret Murphy, and Margaret Wallis, alias Staineus, were apparently devout and serious; Benjamin Branch, and Martin Bellamy comply’d with the Worship, by making regular Responses, but were seldom attentive to the Exhortations, and were otherways guilty of carrying themselves most undecently at Prayers and other Times, especially for Men in their miserable and dangerous Circumstances; for which I reprov’d them sharply and frequently; but they were the most obstinate and obdurate Criminals I ever saw. William Shann never came to Chapel but once, having been afflicted with sickness, and afterwards with swelling in his Legs and Feet, so that he could not walk; but as I frequently visited him in the Cell, he still declar’d himself very Penitent, and readily comply’d with Prayers and Exhortations.

Upon Thursday, the 21st, of March, the Report of these eight Malefactors under Sentence of Death, was made to His Majesty in Council. When William Shan, for Felony and Burglary, in breaking the House of Richard Wright of Coleman-street, and taking thence 30 Guineas, 10 l. in Silver, 8 Moiders, 2 broad Pieces, and one half broad Piece, on the 8th of December last, the Property of Richard Wright aforesaid. And Richard Kelme of St. John Hackney, for stealing a Brown Gelding, value 7 l. the Property of Mr. Yellowly; a Mare, val, 7 l. the Goods of Mr. Sanders; a Bridle, Saddle, and Saddle-cloth, the Property of John Laurence, out of the Stable of the said John Laurence, receiv’d His Majesty’s most Gracious Reprieve. The remaining Six, viz. Benjamin Branch, Martin Bellamy, John Potter, James Stagles, alias Howard, Margaret Murphew, and Margaret Wallis, alias Stainens, were ordered for Execution.

Benjamin Branch, of St. Andrew’s Holbourn, was Indicted for Assaulting Jane Marshal on the Highway, putting her in Fear, and taking from her two Guineas, two half Guineas, and 3 s. and 6 d, in Silver, 2 Pocket-pieces, value 5 s. a bunch of Keys, and 2 silk Handkerchiefs, on the 27th of Jan. last.

Benjamin Branch, 27 years of Age, descended of honest Parents, who gave him good Education at School, in Reading and Writing, and instructed him in the Christian Religion: When of Age, they put him to an Employment, at which he might have liv’d well; but being of a loose Temper, and not willing to confine himself to constant Business, he Associated himself with the worst of Company, and commenc’d Thief and Street-Robber in an extraordinary Manner, surpassing most of his Accomplices in those unlawful and wicked Practices. He confess’d, that he had committed many Street-Robberies, and particularly that for which he was Convicted, that he met with a deserved Punishment, having Sin’d against much Light and Knowledge, and the Convictions of his own Conscience: For his Father (as he said) bred him to his own Business of a Goldsmith and a Lapidary , and put him in a way of living Creditably in the World, but shaking off all fear of God and Regard to Man, and joining himself to a Band of Thieves and Robbers, he became one of the most Noted about Town in that way. He always attended publick Prayers in Chapel, and made Responses regularly, but with too much Indifferency, and for the most part was attentive to the Exortations, only sometimes he spoke to his Friends, and some who were next him. And upon the second Sunday before his Death, he and Bellamy, as I began to speak upon Death, which I judg’d a proper Subject and Discourse for their Case; went out of their Place to talk with Strangers; this giving offence to the Auditory, I desir’d them to return and compose themselves, and hear the Word of the Lord with Reverence and Attention; they were so rude as to cry out, expressing themselves in a very undiscreet Manner, before a good number of People, a Behaviour unbecoming any Person, but especially Men in their deplorable Circumstances. I reproved them sharply, and told ’em, that however they might slight the Ordinances dispens’d by Man, yet that God the righteous Judge, who was ready to take Vengeance upon his Adversaries, would shortly bring them to a terrible Account for so notorious Contempt of his Word, if they did not repent. I have not observ’d two so very audacious Sinners, when so near their latter End. When the Report was made, Branch became more serious and civil, acknowledging himself to have been one of the greatest of Sinners, most unthankful to God and Man, for the great Blessings he had receiv’d, and for misimproving the Talents where with God had endow’d him; adding, that his sometimes laughing and speaking proceeded not from any Contempt of God’s Word and Ordinances, but from his Youth and want of Consideration. He declar’d himself penitent for all his Sins, particularly, his great Vices of Covetousness, Robbery, Whoredom, and their Attendants, which had brought him to a shameful and untimely Death; that he died in Peace with all the World, and in the Faith of being sav’d only through the Merits of Jesus Christ.

Martin Bellamy, of St. Katherine Cree Church, was indicted for Felony and Burglary, in breaking the House of Giles Holliday, on the 5th of February last in the Night time, and taking thence 12 Pounds of sewing silk, Value 10 l. and 20 pair of worsted stockings, Value 5 l. the Property of Giles Holloday aforesaid.

Martin Bellamy, born of honest Parents, who gave him good Education, instructing him in Christian Principles, and the Knowledge of other things proper to fit him for Business in the World. He was about 28 Years of Age, by Trade a Taylor, in which Art he was very skillful, and might have liv’d in Credit and an honest manner, but giving loose Reins to his irregular Passions, he addicted himself to all manner of Wickedness. About 4 Years ago, he married and liv’d only 5 Weeks with his Wife, for being taken up for some Fraud or Theft, he was put into Clerkenwell Bridewell, whether (as he said) his Wife’s Brother-in-Law coming to him, desir’d to know, where his Prosecutor liv’d, upon Pretence of making Matters easie, but the said Brother went to the Gentleman and advis’d him to prosecute Bellamy; upon which he resenting this suppos’d Injury, took up an irreconcileable Prejudice against his Wife and all her Relations, never cohabiting with her any more. About this time, he betook himself to his old Companion a young Woman, whom he call’d Amey Fowler, who pass’d for his Wife above the space of six Years, bare him several Children and liv’d in good Friendship with him. Her he commended, though (it seems) he could by no means agree with his true Wife, because she disapprov’d of his naughty Courses. He said also, that Amey Fowler was altogether ignorant of and had no Concern in his Robberies, he having deserted her Company also, when he follow’d that extravagant manner of Life. This he desir’d to be publish’d, because the World blam’d her for his Misfortunes, as advising him to undertake his villainous Attempts. He gave Account of a great many Robberies and Burglaries he had committed; such as, his obliging the Watchman in Thames-street to throw his Lanthorn and Staff into the River, and holding a Pistol to his Breast, till three other Thieves robb’d a Tea-shop to the Value of 20 l. in Goods. In East-Cheap he robb’d a Shoemaker’s Shop, and knock’d the Watchman down with a bag of Shoes, which he was forc’d to leave out of hast to make his Escape. In Coleman-street he robb’d a Stocking Shop of Goods to the Value of 70 l. He robb’d a Gentleman near St. Botolph’s Aldersgate of a silver Watch with a Case, but left him 6 s. in Money, and cut the Band of his Breeches, to prevent his pursuing him. For a little Premium to support himself in Prison, he put some upon a way of recovering part of their Goods. Some Years ago, upon a false Pretence, he got 10 Guineas from one in Smithfield, in the Name of the late Jonathan Wild, but made his Peace with Jonathan, by giving him 5 l. and gave his Bond for Payment of the Money at the Baptist-head Tavern, but this is still unpaid. Many such Accounts he told of himself, but with such an air of Indifference and Boldness, as shew’d him to be no way penitent for his Crimes, but to take Delight in recounting his Villainies, and thus glorying in his Shame. Altho’ he outwardly comply’d with Prayers, yet at other Times he behav’d himself with such Audacity, sometimes falling out into violent fits of Passion and Swearing; so that he seem’d to have been Craz’d and out of his Senses, not allowing himself time seriously to think upon his latter End, and improving his few remaining Moments, in working out his Souls Salvation with Fear and Trembling: Till some time after the Dead-Warrant came out, he began to Cry and Lament his unhappy Fate; his Conscience then beginning to Awake, because of the most irregular Life he had Led, and the terrible Account he had to make. I frequently and sharply Reprov’d him for his Miscarriages, and for his former vicious Life, having giving himself wholly up to work Wickedness. I represented to him the dangerous Condition he was in, what a terrible Thing it was to fall into the Hands of the living God, of a Just and Sin-revenging God; For who can abide with ever lasting Burnings? And that without holiness no Man can see the Lord. He acknowledg’d himself one of the greatest of Sinners; beg’d God and Man Pardon for the many Offences of his Life, declar’d himself Penitent for all his Sins; that he believ’d in Christ, through whose Merits he hop’d to be Saved; and that he Died in Peace with all the World. Branch and Bellamy own’d themselves much oblig’d to two worthy Divines, who visited them three or four Days before they Died.

James Stagles, alias Howard, of St. Dunstan’s Stepney, was Indicted for Assaulting John House on the Highway, putting him in Fear, and taking from him two Pocket Pieces, val. 6 d. 6 s. in Silver, and some Half-pence, on the 6th, of February last.

James Stagles alias Howard, 43 years of Age, (as he said) descended of honest Parents, who gave him good Education, and instructed him in Principles of Christianity. When of Age, he was not put out to any Employment, but served Gentlemen, and married a Woman in Yarmouth, with whom he got a good Portion, which he prodigally squander’d and lavish’d away. He Travel’d over great part of the World, Italy, France, the Holy-land, and several other Countries, attending his Masters, and could speak some Foreign Languages; and when he came home (as he said) he was worth some thousand of Pounds, which he spent in his foolish Rambles; he purchas’d a Place for himself, which he lost because of his Miscarriages. Being out of Business, and not knowing what to do, and wanting Grace and good Manners, he took himself to the Highway, for two or three Years past; during which time, he was not Inferior to any of his Profession in doing Mischief. He had formerly made himself an Evidence against one George Noble, who was Executed at St. Edmund’s-Bury, who deny’d the Fact of which he was Convicted, at his last Hour.

Upon a Letter from an unknown Hand at the desire of Noble’s Widow, I ask’d, if Noble was guilty according to his Evidence? He answer’d, that it was known he was Guilty, and that his Wife need not enquire into that Affair, knowing the Truth thereof. As to the Robbery of which he was convicted, he denied that he took the Money from the Gentleman, but that it was handed to him by another Person, who is a creditable Man, but whom he did not incline to discover, thinking he should not have been Convicted, and after Conviction it being to no Purpose, he did not judge it proper to ruin a poor Family. He confess’d himself to have been a most wicked and profligate Fellow, and that he had met with a deserved Punishment for his Crimes. Although (as he said) when he was abroad, he was sollicited to alter his Profession, as to Religion, which indeed I believe was, what he least minded, yet he was still of the Communion of this Church, in which he was Baptized. He declar’d himself sincerely penitent, having always behav’d himself very devoutly at Prayers, but that sometimes he spoke to Branch, that he believ’d in Jesus Christ his only Saviour, and died in Peace with all the World.

Margaret Murphey, of St. Martins in the Fields, was indicted for privately and feloniously stealing out of the House of John Cordes, a Silver Salver, val. 5 l. a Silver Tea-pot, val. 5 l. on the 15th of January last, the Property of Peter Casteels.

Margaret Murphey, 30 Years of Age, born in Ireland, of honest Parents. Her Father dying when she was very young, she got little Education, and if she was put to School, what Instructions were given her were quite obliterated, by Reason of her perverse and wicked Nature. She married a Husband in her own Country, and came over to London 9 Years ago, where she kept House for some time, and as one who liv’d near her, told me, maintaining a good Character among the Neighbours. But (as she told me) her Husband was a very naughty Fellow, and made all away in a most profuse and extravagant Manner, which made her rack her Wit what Course to take, and falling in with ill-dispos’d People, they brought her into Acquaintance of some of Jonathan Wild’s Gangs, which prov’d her Ruin. She voluntarily appear’d as Evidence against Jonathan Wild, who was convicted upon her Evidence chiefly; and upon the desire of one, being ask’d, if the Evidence she gave against Jonathan was True as she deliver’d it? She answer’d, that it was, and several Persons knew it to be so, and that there was no Force put upon her in that Affair, she appearing of her own accord. She own’d herself to have been a very great Sinner, to have liv’d a most irregular and debauch’d Life, to have been concern’d in a great Number of Robberies and Felonies, having for some Years past liv’d upon what unlawful Purchase she could make that way, and to have met with a most deserved Punishment for the Villainies she had committed. As to the Crime of which she was convicted, she said, that she never saw the Silver Tea pot which was sworn against her, and she only got the Salver from another Woman to sell, who never told her what way she came by it; to make this appear probable, she said, that she did not know Mr. Casteels in Long-Acre, having never heard of him, nor his House. But that it was her great Misfortune to be under so bad a Character, because of her Acquaintance with the late Jonathan Wild, and her appearing as Evidence against him, which made her Name still more infamously Famous. I desir’d her to submit to the Will of God, since Providence had justly brought her under severe Afflictions, and the Lash of an ignominious Death for her reprobate and unaccountable Life. She acknowledg’d the Justice of her Sentence according to the Laws of the Land, declaring that she believ’d in Jesus Christ her only Saviour; that she repented of all her Sins; dying in the Romish Communion, and in Peace with all Mankind.

Margaret Wallis, alias Staining, was Indicted for breaking the House of Henry Clark of Islington, on the 3d, of February last, in the Night-time, and taken thence 12 Pewter-plates, a Napkin, 5 Handkerchiefs, 4 Aprons, a black and white Silk-hood, a Mob, 3 holland Shirts, 2 pair of Stockings, a Top-knot, a Wrapper, 2 Gowns, six holland Shifts, a Petticoat, a Fann, a pair of Lace-Ruffles, and a Remnant of brocaded Silk.

Margaret Wallis, alias Staining, 21 years of Age, of mean Parents in the Country, who gave her no Education. She always serv’d Honestly (as she said) except in the particular instance of this Robery for which she died. She was a very ignorant Creature. I instructed her in the first Principles of Christianity, and with difficulty brought her to a little Knowledge. Altho’ she was Sick most of the time she was under Sentence, excepting two or three times, she always attended in Chapel, and to appearance, with abundance of Devotion and Seriousness. She own’d herself guilty of the Robbery of which she was Convicted, and that her Sentence was just according to Law. She declar’d, that she was truly Penitent for her many Sirs, that she believ’d to be Saved thro’ the Merits of Jesus Christ, and Died in Peace with all Mankind.

At the Place of Execution.

THEY all behav’d with very great Seriousness and Devotion, to appearance. James Stagles, alias Howard, desir’d me to write down to the Country, and give a near Relation of his an Account of his deplorable Fate, to communicate the same to the rest of his Friends. Mrs. Murphey declar’d, that she knew nothing of Mr. Casteels nor his House, who swore himself Proprietor of the stollen Plate for which she died; that she knew of no more then a Salver, which was given her by another Woman to dispose off, and this she knew to be stollen, but from whence she could not tell. As for the Tea-pot, she never heard of it. She said also, that she knew nothing of his Grace the Duke of Montague’s rich Hangings, and that the Woman, nam’d Sullivane, swore falsely against her, for which she freely forgave her, and prayed God to forgive her. They all adher’d to their former Confessions, and went of the Stage, crying out, Lord Jesus receive my Spirit.

Just as the Prisoners were bringing out of Newgate, to go to the Place of Execution, a Reprieve came for John Potter, before-mention’d.

At the Place of Execution, Martin Bellamy read a Paper to the Auditors, wherein he lamented the Follies of a mispent Life, &c. the Copy whereof is as follows,

Gentlemen,

I Am brought here to suffer an ignominious Death, for my having willfully transgressed against the known Laws of God and my Country. I fear there are too many here present, who come to be Witnesses of my untimely End, rather out of Curiosity than from a sincere Intention to take Warning by my unhappy Fate. You see me here in the very Prime of my Youth, cut off like an untimely Flower in a rigorous Season, thro’ my having been too much addicted to a voluptious and irregular Course of Life, which has been the Occasion of my committing those Crimes for which I am now to suffer. As the Laws of God, as well as Men, call upon me to lay down my Life as justly forfeited, by my manifold Transgressions. I acknowledge the Justice of my Sentence, and I patiently submit to the same, without any Rancour, Ill will, or Malice, against any Person what soever, hoping, thro’ the Merits of Christ Jesus (who laid down his Life for Sinners, and who on the Cross pronounc’d a Pardon for the repenting Thief under the Agonies of Death) to be with him admitted to partake of that Glorious Resurrection and Immortality, he has been so graciously pleased to promise to the sincere Penitent. I earnestly exhort and beg of all here present, to think seriously of Eternity, a long and endless Eternity, in which we are to be rewarded, or punish’d, according to our good or evil Actions in this World, that you will all take Warning by me, and refrain from all wilfull Transgressions and Offences; let a religious Disposition prevail upon you, and use your utmost Endeavours to forsake and flee from Sin, the Mercies of God are great, and he can save, even at the last Moment of Life; yet do not therefore presume to much, least you provoke him to cast you off in his Anger, and become fearfull Examples of his Wrath and Indignation. Let me prevail upon you to forget and forgive me all the Offences and Injuries I have either committed, or promoted, in Action, Advice, or Example, and intreat your Prayers for me, that the Lord would in Mercy look down upon me in the last Moments of my Life.

“Look down in Mercy, O God I beseech thee, upon me a miserable, lost, and undone Sinner; number not my Transgressions nor let my Iniquities rise up in Judgment against me; wash me and I shall be clean, purge me and shall be free from Offence. Tho’ my Sins be as Scarlet they shall be whiter than Snow, if thou pleasest but to receive me amongst those who are Redeem’d by the Merits of thy dear Son Christ Jesus And Oh! Blessed Jesus disown me not in my last Extremity, but number me amongst those whom thou hast redeem’d, that I may sing Praises to the most High, and extol thy Holy Name in the Courts of Heaven, for ever and ever more. Amen.”

This is all the Account given by me,

JAMES GUTHRIE, Minister at Newgate.

ADVERTISEMENT.

This Day is Publish’d,

The LIFE of Martin Bellamy, with an Account of all the several Robberies, Burglaries, Forgeries, and other Crimes by him Committed. Also the Method practised by Himself, and his Companion, in the Perpetration thereof. Necessary to be Perus’d by all Persons, in order to prevent their being Robb’d for the future. Dictated by himself in NEWGATE, and Publish’d at his Request, for the Benefit of the Publick. And his Speech to the Spectators at the Place of Execution. Printed and Sold by J. Applebee, in Black-Fryers, A. Dodd, at the Peacock without Temple-Bat, and E. utt, at the Royal Exchange. Price Six-Pence.

London: Printed by JOHN APPLEBEE, in Black-Fryers.

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Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Hanged,Mass Executions,Public Executions,Theft,Women

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1720: Antoine-Joseph de Horn, humanity from an executioner

Add comment March 26th, 2018 Henry-Clement Sanson

(Thanks to Henry-Clement Sanson for the guest post. The former executioner — the last of his illustrious dynasty comprising six generations of bourreaux — was the grandson of that dread figure of the Paris Terror, Charles Henri Sanson. Henry-Clement’s Memoirs of the Sansons: From Private Notes and Documents (1688-1847) describes some famous or infamous executions from the family annals. “If it had for purpose to furnish food for the unhealthy curiosity of people who would seek emotions in a kind of written photograph of the scenes that take place on the scaffold, it should be received with loathsomeness,” our guest author disingenuously explains of his motivations after debts resulted in his dismissal from the family post. Rather, “I have been actuated in the course of my work by an abhorrence for the punishment denounced by so many eloquent voices, the punishment of which I have had the misfortune to be the living impersonation.” Although this document appears to draw from some manner of family records, it deserves a cautious reading as pertains the intimate conversations and beneficent motivations of his kinsmen. -ed.)

Count Antoine-Joseph De Horn was the scion of a princely race; and he was connected with the highest nobility of Europe. At the time when speculation, under Law‘s auspices, was raging in Paris, and the temptation of gain was leading astray many persons of position and family, Count de Horn was living in the capital the life of a young lord of fashion and fortune. The sensation which was produced may easily be imagined when it was heard that he had been arrested and put under lock and key under the twofold charge of having murdered, in company with a Piedmontese, called the Chevalier de Milhe, and a third unknown person, a Jew who speculated in the shares of the Royal Bank, in order to rob him of a pocket-book which contained a sum of 100,000 livres.

The murder was perpetrated in a tavern of the Rue Quincampoix, where, it was alleged, Count de Horn and his accomplices had made an appointment with the Jew, under pretence of purchasing the shares he had in his pocket, but in reality to steal them from him.

The greatest agitation prevailed at Court in consequence of this affair, owing to the illustrious rank or the accused, and of his connection with the loftiest aristocracy of the land. De Horn’s trial was pursued with unprecedented rapidity, and it seems as if the numerous steps taken to save the young man’s life only hurried his fate. When his parents heard of his incarceration, they lost no time in moving heaven and earth on his behalf. On the eve of the trial, a large number of his kinsmen assembled in the Palais de Justice, and waited for the members of the court, to bow to them as they passed, by way of commending the accused to their indulgence. This imposing manifestation, undertaken by the first seigneurs of France, produced no effect: the court of La Tournelle sentenced Count de Horn and the Chevalier de Milhe to be broken on the wheel, and left there until death should follow.

This sentence filled the young man’s friends and parents with terror and surprise. They sent to the Regent a petition in which it was represented that Count de Horn’s father was mad, that his kinsman Prince Ferdinand de Ligne was in a similar condition, that lunacy was a common ailing in his family, and that the young man must have committed the crime when of unsound mind. Among those who signed the petition were Prince Claude de Ligne, Marquis d’Harcourt, the Earl of Egmont, the Duke de la Tremouille, the Duke de la Force, the Archbishop of Cambray, Prince de Soubise, the Princess de Gonzague, and many others of the same rank. All the facts adduced in this petition were certainly authentic. The great race of the Princes de Horn and Overisque had given many examples of mental aberration. All the subscribers of the petition went in a body to the Palais Royal; but the Regent only consented to receive a deputation. He was inflexible with regard to a reprieve; and it was with much difficulty that he consented to a commutation of the sentence into decapitation. He could only be moved by being reminded that he was himself related to the culprit through his mother the Princess Palatine. How he kept his promise will be seen hereafter.

This obstinacy on the part of the Regent was much commented upon. Personal animosity was said to be the cause. M. de Horn, being young, handsome, and captivating, had been something of a lady-killer. Now, morality was not the distinguishing feature of Philip d’Orleans’ court, and it was said that several beauties in fashion had regarded the foreign young lord with more than ordinary favour. Mdme. de Parabere‘s name was particularly mentioned; and it was related that the Regent had once surprised M. de Horn in conversation with the beautiful marchioness. In his fury the prince showed him the door, saying, ‘Sortez’ —to which the Count made the proud and appropriate answer: ‘Monseigneur, nos ancetres auraient dit, sortons.’ To this adventure, whether real or invented, was attributed the Regent’s hatred for Count de Horn, whose life he had sworn to sacrifice. It is not my business to discuss this question. What was most certain was that Law, the minister of finance, and Dubois, the prime minister, showed themselves the bitterest foes of Count de Horn. The influence of the shares of the Royal Bank and of the Mississippi was diminishing; and they were in hopes that this might be mended by a display of unparalleled severity for the punishment of a murder committed with the object of taking possession of some of these shares.

Shortly afterwards, Charles Sanson received a visit from the Marquis de Creqy, the nobleman who had been the instigator and leader of all the attempts made to save the unfortunate youth. He seemed convinced that the Regent would keep his word, and showed him a letter in which the Duke de Saint-Simon expressed his conviction that Count de Horn would be decapitated. The Marquis added that his royal highness had also promised that the execution should take place in the court of the Conciergerie, to spare the culprit the shame of being led through the crowd. The only thing was to spare the unhappy young man as many sufferings as possible. M. de Creqy expressed a wish to see the sword which was to be used for his execution; he turned pale when my ancestor produced the broad double-edged blade, sharp and flashing, which could hardly be styled a weapon. On one side was engraved the word Justitia; on the other a wheel, emblem of torture. It was the sword with which the Chevalier de Rohan had been decapitated.

M. de Creqy could hardly refrain from weeping when he begged Charles Sanson to be as lenient as possible in the execution of his fearful mission, to uncover only the neck of the victim, and to wait until he received the priest’s absolution before giving him the fatal blow.

The conversation then turned to the measures to be taken for the remittance of the body, which M. de Creqy claimed in the name of the family. He requested my ancestor to procure a padded coffin wherein to place the remains of De Horn, which were then to be taken away in a carriage sent expressly for the purpose. Charles Sanson promised to see to the accomplishment of these lugubrious details.

When he left, M. de Creqy, wishing to reward my ancestor for the services he asked, presented him with 100 louis, and insisted on his accepting the gift. But Charles Sanson firmly refused. M. de Creqy appeared moved, and retired. I may be forgiven for dwelling with some complacency on this trait of disinterestedness on the part of one of those who preceded me in the office I held for many years; it may be considered as an answer to the charge of cupidity which has been launched at a profession which did not appear sufficiently soiled by blood.

Only a few hours had elapsed since the visit of the Marquis de Creqy, when Charles Sanson received the order to take, on the next morning at six o’clock, from the Conciergerie, Count Antoine de Horn; to convey him to the Place de Greve, after passing through the torture-chamber, and carry out the sentence of Parliament in its cruel tenour. My ancestor’s expectation was justified; the Regent did not keep his word; Law and Dubois had won the day against the Duke de Saint-Simon and the nobility.

To my ancestor’s extreme surprise, the sentence did not even contain the secret restriction of a retentum, which spared horrible sufferings to the accused, by ordering the executioner to strangle him before breaking his limbs. How could he now keep the promise he had made to the Marquis de Creqy? Charles Sanson passed the night in anything but pleasant reflections.

It was broad daylight when my ancestor arrived at the Conciergerie with his sinister cortege. He immediately entered the prison, and was conducted to a lower room in which were the Count de Horn and M. de Milhe, who-had just been tortured. Both were horribly mangled, for they had supported the boot to the eighth spike. The Count was extremely pale. He cast a haggard look around him, and kept speaking to his companion, who seemed much more resigned and listened with religious attention to the priest who was consoling him. As to M. de Horn, instead of being plunged in the state of prostration which usually followed the abominable sufferings he had just borne, he gesticulated with feverish animation and pronounced incoherent words which almost seemed to justify what had been alleged in his defence concerning the unsoundness of his mind. He violently repulsed the priest, who was dividing his attention between the two sufferers, and repeatedly asked for Monsignor Francois de Lorraine, Bishop of Bayeux, from whom he had received the communion the day before.

The fatal moment came. The culprits were carried to the executioner’s cart. Charles Sanson sat down next to the Count, while the priest continued speaking to the Piedmontese. Seeing the unhappy young man’s extreme agitation, my ancestor thought he might quiet him by giving him some hope, even were that hope to remain unrealised.

‘My lord,’ he said, ‘there is perhaps some hope. Your relations are powerful.’

The prisoner violently interrupted him. ‘They have abandoned me,’ he exclaimed; ‘the Bishop — where is the Bishop? He promised to return.’

‘Who knows?’ my ancestor ventured to say; ‘reprieve may yet come.’

The young man’s lips turned up contemptuously. ‘If they wanted to spare my life, they would not have crippled me in this fashion,’ he replied, bitterly, casting a look at his lacerated legs and feet.

Charles Sanson says in his notes that he really hoped and expected that some attempt would be made to save De Horn. But nothing occurred. The Pont-au-Change was passed, and in another minute the cortege reached the Place de Greve. The Count looked at Sanson reproachfully as if upbraiding him for what he had said; but he was now quite collected and the fear of death had left him.

At length the cart stopped at the foot of the scaffold. The culprits, owing to the torture they had undergone, could not move unaided. Charles Sanson therefore took Count de Horn in his arms and carried him up the steps. At the same time he whispered in his ear the advice that he should ask permission to make revelations, as a means of gaining time; but the unfortunate young man had again lost his self-possession and gave vent to incoherent exclamations. ‘I knew they would not allow the Bishop to come,’ he said; … ‘they have arrested him because he had shares also. But I shall sell my life dearly; only give me arms! … they cannot refuse to give me arms!’ … While he was thus expressing himself, Charles Sanson stepped back, motioning to his assistants to begin their work which consisted in tying him to the plank on which he was to be broken. When this was done, the priest, who had just left the Piedmontese, approached De Horn: ‘My son,’ he said, ‘renounce the sentiments of anger and revenge which trouble your last moments. Only think of God: He is the sovereign author of all justice, if you appear before Him with a contrite and humbled heart.’

The Count at length seemed moved, and he joined in the priest’s prayer. As to my ancestor, he remembered M. de Creqy’s request as to priestly absolution, and in this respect his conscience was firm; but he had also promised not to make the young man suffer. In an instant he decided on the course he should adopt. Simulating sudden illness, he passed his iron bar to Nicolas Gros, his oldest assistant, took the thin rope used for the secret executions of the retentum, passed it round the Count’s neck, and before Gros had raised the heavy bar wherewith he was about to break the culprit’s limbs, he pulled the rope, and thus spared him the most atrocious sufferings ever devised by human cruelty.

On the other hand, the Chevalier de Milhe, who was being broken, uttered wild shrieks. In vain did the priest wipe the perspiration from his brow, and pour a few drops of water into his mouth. Charles Sanson was struck with the inequality of the sufferings of the two men, and told Gros to give him the coup de grace — the blow which broke the chest.

Gros obeyed, but not without casting an uneasy look at the commissaire, who was viewing the execution from the balcony of the Hotel-de-ville. No doubt the latter cared little for executions of this kind, of which, perhaps, he had seen but too many, for he perceived nothing. At this moment the priest, surprised not to hear the cries of Count de Horn, returned to exhort him to repentance: he saw that death had forestalled him. The rope was still hanging from the young man’s neck, and my ancestor hastened to conceal it while the ecclesiastic was standing between the Hotel-de-ville and himself; then, placing a finger on his lips, he solicited the priest’s discretion.

Both passed the remainder of the day beside the mangled remains. Shortly after the execution, a carriage drawn by six horses, preceded by a mounted servant, and followed by six servants in gorgeous livery, entered the Place de Greve. It was the Duke de Croy d’Havre, whose arms could be descried on the panels of his carriage through the black crape which covered it. He was soon followed by three other carriages, which stopped on the north sideof the square. They were all in deep mourning, as also the harness of the horses and the liveries of the servants. The blinds were closed, as much to avoid public curiosity as to conceal the cruel sight of the scaffold. But it was whispered in the crowd that the last comers were the Prince de Ligne, the Duke de Rohan, and a Crouiy, the last scion of the illustrious race of Arpad, which traced its origin to Attila, and put forth more legitimate rights to the crown of Hungary than the house of Hapsburg.

My ancestor was surprised not to see the Marquis de Creqy. But his astonishment was short-lived, for a rumour at the other end of the Place announced the arrival of two other carriages, in an apparel still more pompous. They drove up to the other carriages and took up a position in the same line. The Marquis de Creqy stepped out, and advanced on to the square clad in the uniform of a colonel-general and general inspector of the King’s armies, and wearing the insignias of the Golden Fleece, the grand crosses of Saint-Louis and Saint-Jean of Jerusalem. His countenance bore the traces of profound grief. He traversed the Greve with a firm step; the crowd stepped back respectfully before this great personage, who was one of Louis XIV’s godsons.

As soon as the commissaire saw M. de Creqy, he retired from the balcony of the Hotel-de-ville, as if only waiting for this final protest to bring the scene to a conclusion. This meant that justice was satisfied. The Marquis walked straight up to my ancestor with a severe face, and looking at him almost threateningly:

‘Well, sir,’ said he, in a stern voice, ‘what of your promise?’

‘Monseigneur,’ answered Charles Sanson, ‘at eight o’clock this morning M. le Comte de Horn was dead, and the bar of my assistant struck a dead body.’

The priest confirmed my ancestor’s words.

‘Well,’ said M. de Creqy, in a milder tone, ‘our house shall remember that if it could obtain nothing from the clemency of the Regent and from the justice of Parliament, it is at least indebted to the humanity of the executioner.’

The Count’s body was then untied and taken to one of the carriages. It was so mutilated that the limbs seemed ready to separate from the trunk. As a protest against the cruelty of the sentence, M. de Creqy insisted on holding one of the legs, which only adhered to the corpse by the skin. When this was done the carriages moved away in a file, and stopped before the house of the Countess de Montmorency-Lagny, nee De Horn, where the Count’s remains were placed in a bier and deposited in a chapel. It remained there for two days, surrounded by a numerous clergy who sang the mass of the dead. Meanwhile Prince Francois de Lorraine, Bishop of Bayeux, had returned to Paris. He expressed much grief at having been unable to attend his unfortunate kinsman to the scaffold, thinking that the execution was to take place at a later date. He nevertheless arrived in time to join his prayers to those of the clergy, and, in company with MM. de Creqy and de Plessis-Belliere, he escorted the body to the Castle of Baussigny, in the Netherlands, where the Prince de Horn, eldest brother of the defunct, and head of the family, usually resided.

This extraordinary affair greatly irritated the highest personages of the State against the Regent and his favourites: it proved of no assistance to Law, whose fall was unavoidable. On his return from his country-seat the Duke de Saint-Simon hastened to write to the Duke d’Havre to express his regret at what had occurred, and to say how he himself had been deceived by the false promises of the Duke d’Orleans.

I quote here the Duke d’Havre’s answer, because it not only expressed the sentiments of all the French nobility, but it corroborates what I have said concerning Charles Sanson’s conduct:

My dear Duke, — I accept with gratitude, and I understand quite well, the regret you are kind enough to express. I do not know whether the Marquis de Parabere or the Marquis de Creqy obtained of the executioner of Paris the charity which is attributed to him; but what I do know is that the death of Count de Horn is the result of a false policy, of the financial operations of the Government, and, perhaps, also of the policy of the Duke d’Orleans. You know my sentiments of consideration for you.

CROY D’HAVRE

Was Count de Horn really innocent? We have no right to judge the merits of those it was our mission to put to death. Nevertheless I have taken the liberty to allude to the rumours which were current at the time of De Horn’s arrest, and which made him out to be the victim of the Regent’s personal animosity. Another version tended to establish his innocence, or, at least, so to diminish his responsibility in the Jew’s murder, that, were the version correct, the sentence he suffered could only be regarded as a monstrous iniquity. It was said that M. de Horn and the Chevalier de Milhe had not made an appointment with the Jew with the intention of murdering and robbing him, but merely with the object of obtaining from him a large sum in shares of the Bank which the Count had really entrusted to him; that not only did the Jew deny the deposit, but that he went so far as to strike Antoine de Horn in the face. Upon this the young man, who was hot-blooded and passionate, seized a knife that lay on the table and wounded the Jew in the shoulder. It was De Milhe who finished him and took the pocket-book, of which the Count refused to have a share. If the affair occurred in this way, it must be acknowledged that the Regent, and the magistrates who served his hatred, had a heavy reckoning to answer for.

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Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Broken on the Wheel,Capital Punishment,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,France,Gruesome Methods,Guest Writers,History,Murder,Nobility,Other Voices,Pelf,Public Executions,Torture

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Feast Day of St. Dismas, the penitent thief

1 comment March 25th, 2018 Headsman

March 25* is the feast date (per the Roman tradition) of the penitent thief crucified alongside Jesus Christ.

“The Good Thief”, by Michelangelo Cerquozzi.

The Crucifixion — Christ flanked by the “bad thief” who taunts Him and the “good thief” who capes for the Messiah — is deeply planted in the western canon. All four of the Gospels refer to two thieves although it is not until Luke — chronologically the latest, and hence the most embroidered and least reliable, of the synoptic gospels — that these nameless extras are surfaced as contrasting archetypes of the damned and the saved.

And one of the malefactors which were hanged railed on him, saying, If thou be Christ, save thyself and us. But the other answering rebuked him, saying, Dost not thou fear God, seeing thou art in the same condemnation? And we indeed justly; for we receive the due reward of our deeds: but this man hath done nothing amiss. And he said unto Jesus, Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom. And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with me in paradise. (Luke 23:39-43)

This is as much as the New Testament has to offer on these characters, but the theme of the Savior’s redemption poured out to flesh-and-blood sinners at the hour of death had a powerful resonance for Christendom and would furnish a good thief cult down the centuries; topical for this site, said thief would headline countless execution sermons to the condemned. (Example) As Mitchell Merback puts it in The Thief, the Cross and the Wheel: Pain and the Spectacle of Punishment in Medieval and Renaissance Europe

For suffering patiently and obediently, for his literal realization of the ideal of imitatio Christi, he is rewarded with the crown of martyrdom. The spectacle of his death, his ‘immediate beatitude’, was therefore consummately edifying: a beautiful death, redeemed and redeeming, not despite but because of the abjection that accompanied it. To the philopassianic late Middle Ages he served as a powerful inspiration for penitents. One could only wish to die so thoroughly cleansed of sin as the man in the image.

We have already seen how a similar wish obtained, individually and collectively, in the theatre of public punishments. Confessed and penitent convicts became, in the eyes of the people, the living counterparts of the historical martyrs and, consequently, the objects of a quasi-cultic veneration … Like his condemned counterparts in the Middle Ages, then, the Good Thief’s worthiness for redemption resided in part in the purity of his self-examination, confession and repentance … [and] also sprang directly from his fleshly pains. As both spectacle and image, the demolished body of the Penitent Thief constituted a sign of this soul’s lightning progress through purgation and towards redemption. Within the purview of a Christian ‘piety of pain’, his torments were both abject and redemptive, fearful and enviable, unbearable and fascinating.

For the Bad Thief, who in stubborn blindness turns away from Christ and dies in despair, unregenerate and damned, this surplus of earthly pain is something else: a foretaste of eternal torments. The same violent death transforms one Thief into a likeness of the Crucified, and hence a figure worthy of compassion, admiration and veneration; the other is marked as an everyday scapegoat, worthy of mockery and scorn. Together, then, the two figures, though marginal in the Passion narrative, become central in the medieval economy of response: they become antithetical models for a culture tuned to pain’s instrumentality in the pursuit of redemption.

In the language of the canvas, Christ gestures at that redemption by inclining his head to the right, towards the Good Thief, and didactic works will sometimes add a cherub retrieving this dying penitent’s soul whilst some infernal monster snatches the nasty one.


“Crucifixion” by Vitale da Bologna, circa 1335.

Both thieves attained their legendary names later in antiquity from the Gospel of Nicodemus, Dismas, Dysmas or Demas (the good one) and Gestas or Gesmas (the other one).** Other apocraphal texts build these two out like spinoffs in a blockbuster franchise; The Story of Joseph of Arimathaea gives us one bloodthirsty murderer and one proto-social bandit with a heavy dollop of anti-Semitism:†

The first, Gestas, used to strip and murder wayfarers, hang up women by teh feet and cut off their breasts, drink the blood of babes: he knew not God nor obeyed any law, but was violent form the beginning.

The other, Demas, was a Galilean who kept an inn; he despoiled the rich but did good to the poor, even burying them, like Tobit. He had committed robberies on the Jews, for he stole (plundered) the law itself at Jerusalem, and stripped the daughter of Caiaphas, who was a priestess of the sanctuary, and he took away even the mystic deposit of Solomon which had been deposited in the (holy) place.

And in a credulity-straining prequel, the Gospel of the Infancy stages a scene where these same two guys (as Titus and Dumachus) mug the Holy Family on the latter’s flight to Egypt only for the Good Thief in a spasm of conscience to call off the attack. Baby Jesus rewards his clemency with the depressing prophesy that they’ll all be crucified together.

Present-day namesakes of the penitent thief include the Christian rock band Dizmas, and Bill and Ted’s hometown of San Dimas, California.

* It shares a calendar date with the Feast of the Annunciation, which is the date that an angel informed the Virgin Mary of her miraculous pregnancy. (March 25 = Christmas Day minus nine months.) Medieval belief cottoned to the symmetry of the divine conception and the passion of the cross falling on the same day.

** The understood arrangement is that Dismas was crucified on Christ’s privileged right side. However, Merback notes that like Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern these two halves of a whole are easily confused with one another, for “one of the surviving manuscripts containing the legend places Gestas on the right and Dysmas on the left; and several works discussed in these pages show the name ‘Gestas’ inscribed near the Thief on Christ’s right. Whether these are the outgrowths of a primitive literary tradition or the result of iconographic confusions or misappropriations is unclear.” As an example, in Conrad von Soest‘s Altarpiece from Bad Wildungen it appears that Dismas is the one bound for perdition:

† In The Story of Joseph of Arimathaea, damnation is explicitly framed as the fate of the Jews, with Christ assuring Dismas/Demas that “the children of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and Moses shall be cast out into the outer darkness.”

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Entry Filed under: Ancient,Arts and Literature,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Crucifixion,Death Penalty,Execution,Famous,Gruesome Methods,History,Israel,Myths,Palestine,Popular Culture,Public Executions,Religious Figures,Roman Empire,Theft,Uncertain Dates

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1673: La Chaussee, for the giblet pie

Add comment March 24th, 2018 Headsman

On this date in 1673, a footman named La Chaussee paid the forfeit for acting the agent of fugitive poisoner.

The malevolent concoctions of the Marquise de Brinvilliers have already been detailed in these pages. The sudden death of her lover and accomplice St. Croix in the summer of 1672 had exposed his incriminating effects to unwelcome scrutiny, as a consequence of which said Marquise was at this moment on the lam.

A mere valet might very much aspire to melt into the scenery when an accusing gaze is cast; indeed, La Chaussee — Jean Amelin was his real name — had been the vehicle for delivering the fatal draught* to that lady’s two brothers via a giblet pie which the servant poisoned. Although the widowed Madame d’Aubray became greatly and rightly suspicious of her sister-in-law — who by the murder of her brothers now stood to inherit a good deal of money — it seems never to have occurred to anyone that the help was in on the plot.

That is, until La Chaussee most unwisely emerged from the background at the sensitive moment of St. Croix’s death, daring to assert his rights as the former servant of that man to a bag of money whose position in the late poisoner’s apartment he could precisely describe. Having volunteered and (by his accurate description) substantiated this eyebrow-raising intimacy, La Chaussee promptly received not the 1,700 livres aspired after but a speedy arrest.

Hours before he underwent his sentence on March 24, 1673, he was put to torture to discover his accomplices, and as intended the pain loosened his previously reluctant tongue. From the public domain Madame de Brinvilliers and her times, 1630-1676:

“I am guilty. Madame de Brinvilliers gave poison to Sainte-Croix. He told me about it.”

“What did he tell you?”

“Sainte-Croix told me that she gave it in order that her brothers might be poisoned.”

“Was it a powder, or a liquid?”

“A liquid. It was administered in wine and in soup.”

“What did you put in the dish at Villequoy?”

“A clear liquid, taken from Sainte-Croix’s casket. I gave poison to both the brothers. Sainte-Croix promised me one hundred pistoles.”

“Did you report to Sainte-Croix the effect of the poison on Monsieur d’Aubray?”

“Yes, and he gave me some more poison.”

“You are exhorted to tell the truth. Who were your accomplices?”

“Sainte-Croix always told me that Madame de Brinvilliers knew nothing about the matter. But I believe that she knew everything.”

“What makes you think so?”

“Because she often used to speak about poisons.”

“Was it ever suggested that Madame d’Aubray [the widow of the eldest brother -ed.] should be poisoned?”

“Sainte-Croix was not able to get me into her household. Some days before the death of Sainte-Croix, Belleguise took from his lodgings two boxes, but I do not know what was inside. I knew Belleguise ever since I was in the service of Sainte-Croix. Madame de Brinvilliers asked me to tell her where the casket had been placed, and if I knew what was inside. I did not think it was in Sainte-Croix’s rooms, because for a long while it had been placed in the care of a woman called Guedon, who had been working with me in the Rue de Grenelle. I do not know whether Guedon was acquainted with its contents.”

La Chaussee was again asked if Sainte-Croix had given poison to Madame Villarceau d’Aubray.

“No,” he replied. “But if he could have introduced anyone into her household he would have done so.”

The lackey was then taken to the prison chapel to rest for an hour before being carried to the place of execution. Upon being asked if he had anything further to add, he made some rambling observations about a certain Lapierre who had been living with Belleguise, and who was sent away. The sense is difficult to arrive at, and after his torture he may have been slightly delirious and light-headed.

He was then taken in a cart to the Place de Greve, and his limbs broken with an iron bar, a singularly atrocious punishment which was not abolished until the age of the great revolution. Like all cruelties of this nature, it never prevented a single crime. Indeed the brigands and thieves, for whom it was chiefly intended, were in the habit of hardening their flesh against its agonies, and in their moments of recreation used to carry out mock but painful tortures of the wheel, which enabled them to suffer on the public scaffold with fortitude and resignation.

The Marquise de Brinvilliers was eventually captured, and faced torture and execution in 1676.

* The dark arts of chemistry required for this affair were said to have been learned by St. Croix when he was imprisoned in the Bastille and there chanced to meet the Italian poisoner Exili.

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Entry Filed under: 17th Century,Broken on the Wheel,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,France,Gruesome Methods,History,Murder,Pelf,Public Executions,Torture

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1322: John de Mowbray, rebel lord

Add comment March 23rd, 2018 Headsman

On this date in 1322, northern baron John de Mowbray was hanged at York as a traitor.

A member of the aristocratic opposition to Edward II and to Edward’s favorite Hugh Despenser.

Mowbray was with said opposition’s chief, Thomas, Earl of Lancaster when the latter was trapped and defeated by Andrew Harclay at the Battle of Boroughbridge.

The surrender of these rebel lords offered the king a chance to clear many of his rivals from the board, and he did not miss it: something like two dozen nobles were put to death in its aftermath, Mowbray among them.

According to The Washingtons: A Family History, Volume 3, which notes Mowbray as a paternal ancestor of the American protopresident,

His body was left to hang and rot for an extended period before the vengeful king and the Despensers finally permitted his family to take it down and bury it in the church of the Dominican friars at York. Well into the nineteenth century, a legend proclaimed that his armor had been hung on an oak tree near Thirsk, and that ‘at midnight it may yet be heard creaking, when the east wind comes soughing up the road from the heights of Black Hambleton.’

Mowbray’s wife and son were locked in the Tower of London and their estates redistributed to more loyal subjects. They’d be restored to both liberty and property after Queen Isabella and Roger Mortimer overthrew Edward.

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Entry Filed under: 14th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Gibbeted,Hanged,History,Nobility,Public Executions,Treason

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1844: Samuel Mohawk

Add comment March 22nd, 2018 Headsman


Philadelphia Sun, March 26, 1884.

On this date in 1844, Samuel Mohawk, an indigenous Seneca Indian, was hanged for slaughtering Mary McQuiston Wigton and her five children in Slippery Rock, Penn.

Many witnesses noticed Mohawk in a violent rage as he traveled by stage from New York, and his mood grew fouler with drink and with the repeated refusal of hospitality by white establishments. It’s unclear what specific trigger turned his evil temper to murder at the Wigton residence — if there was any real trigger at all — but in his fury, he pounded the brains of his victims out of their skulls with rocks. The case remains locally notorious to this day, in part for being the first execution in Butler County.

I’d tell you all about it but the (inert but very interesting) blog YesterYear Once More has already got it covered.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Hanged,Pennsylvania,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,USA

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