Archive for February, 2019

1616: Vincenz Fettmilch

Add comment February 28th, 2019 Headsman

Among the ancient remains, that which, from my childhood, had been remarkable to me, was the skull of a State criminal, fastened up on the tower of the bridge, who, out of three or four, as the naked iron spikes showed, bad, since 1616, been preserved in spite of the encroachments of time and weather. Whenever one returned from Sachsenhansen to Frankfort, one had this tower before one; and the skull was directly in view. As a boy, 1 liked to hear related the history of these rebels, — Fettmilch and his confederates, — how they had become dissatisfied with the government of the city, had risen up against it, plotted a mutiny, plundered the Jews’ quarter, and excited a fearful riot, but were at last captured, and condemned to death by a deputy of the emperor. Afterwards I fc!t anxious to know the most minute circumstance, and to hear what sort of people they were. When from an old contemporary book, ornamented with wood-cuts, I learned, that, while these men had indeed been condemned to death, many councillors had at the same time been deposed, becanse various kinds of disorder and very much that was unwarrantable was then going on; when I heard the nearer particulars how all took place, — I pitied the unfortunate persons who might be regarded as sacrifices made for a future better constitution. For from that time was dated the regulation which allows the noble old house of Limpurg, the Fiauenstein-honsc. sprung from a club, besides lawyers, tradespeople, and artisans, to take part in a goverument, which, completed by a system of ballot, complicated in the Venetian fashion, and restricted by the civil colleges, was called to do right, without acquiring any special privilege to do wrong.

Goethe

On this date* in 1616 the muffin man Vincenz Fettmilch was executed for a Frankfurt guild revolt that became a notorious anti-Jewish pogrom.

One of the crown jewels of the Holy Roman Empire, Frankfurt am Main was at this time a predominantly Lutheran city of some 20,000 souls, governed by a council comprising the city’s wealthy patricians to the exclusion of her merchants and artisans. The city also boasted one of Germany’s largest Jewish communities, consisting of well over 1,000 people concentrated in a quarter known as the Judengasse (“Jew Lane”); living in Frankfurt under imperial protection, Jews of course were subject at any given time to varying degrees of community anti-Semitism.

The small and almost accidental spark to light the Fettmilch conflagration began in 1612 when the accession of Emperor Matthias led to citizen petitions for an enumeration of civic rights and the patricianate suspiciously refused to supply the charters. The ensuing conflict brought a growing popular movement that “commanded support from a large cross-section of the city’s inhabitants,” writes Christopher Friedrichs.** “But from the outset a dominant role was assumed by one man: Vincenz Fettmilch, a citizen who had experimented with a number of occupations before becoming a pastry-baker. There is no question that Fettmilch was a dynamic and articulate leader — and a passionate foe of patricians and Jews alike.”

For many months did Fettmilch (the cursory English Wikipedia entry | the much better German) and the patricianate maneuver but the long and short of it was that the latter’s credibility to rule deteriorated fatally with damaging revelations of financial malfeasance. By 1614 the popular movement achieved the outright conquest of municipal power, forcing Frankfurt’s much-resented oligarchs to yield their governing posts to guildsmen.

Which also positioned Vincenz Fettmilch to effect his demand for rousting that huge Jewish population.

On August 22, 1614, a popular riot invaded and ransacked the Judengasse. Fettmilch himself issued the expulsion order the very next day. This event is one of the best known and most studied anti-Jewish pogroms in German history; it’s also recalled as one of the last such incidents before the Third Reich — for Fettmilchs did not commonly get the run of a city, and our Fettmilch did not enjoy his run for very long.

As imperial soldiers gathered for an order-restoring incursion that rebellious Frankfurt would be powerless to resist, Vincenz Fettmilch was summarily arrested later in 1614 by other Frankfurters, sparing the city a good deal of destruction and speedily collapsing the new order he had created. Fettmilch had over a year as a ward of the empire’s torturers before he with three associates was beheaded and quartered on February 28, 1616 — the same day that Frankfurt’s Jewish refugees were officially re-admitted back to the Judengasse.


Broadside of the punishment of Fettmilch and associates by Johann Ludwig Schimmel.†

From the time of Fettmilch to this day inconclusive debate has raged among historians and other Germans about how to weigh, interpret, and reconcile those two thrusts of the rebellion — the resistance to Frankfurt’s optimates, and the chauvinism against her Jewry.

* You’ll also find the date of March 10 in various sources; this 10-day discrepancy is that commonplace calendar complication, the Julian-Gregorian split. Frankfurt am Main was a free imperial city within the Holy Roman Empire, and while the empire had gone Gregorian from its introduction in 1582, the mostly Protestant Frankfurt (along with many other German states) stayed away from this papist device until 1700. Our dating here defers to the local Julian sentiment.

** Friedrichs, “The Fettmilch Uprising in German and Jewish History,” Central European History, June 1986.

† Image from Karl Harter in From Mutual Observation to Propaganda War: Premodern Revolts in Their Transnational Representations; that author contextualizes the scene as follows:

In the middle of the picture we see the scaffold set up at the market place of Frankfurt cordoned by heavily armed soldiers and railings with posts showing the imperial eagle: The punishment of the rebels is taking place within the separated legal space of the empire, where only the delinquent, the executioner, the judge and several officials (representative of the imperial commission) and the soldiers appear. The city council and the representatives of the guilds on the two platforms in the centre of the background as well as the burghers of Frankfurt surround that space, watching from the outside. The executioner decapitates one of the delinquents, the recently severed finger of whom can be seen in front of him. The dismembering of the finger – the Schwurfinger – clearly points at the illegal conjuration or conspiracy in terms of penal law. Two more decapitated corpses of ringleaders are positioned on the scaffold. In the background on the left, outside the city three gallows are set up; one with a corpse hanged at the feet and another exposing part of quartered corpse. Both death penalties — reverse hanging and quartering — are typical of the aggravated and infamous punishment of treason. In the case of the Fettmilch-revolt, the four main ringleaders were dismembered, decapitated, quartered and parts of their corpses were exposed at the gallows outside of town. Furthermore, their heads were impaled and exposed on the gate tower on the Rhine side, which was the main entrance to the city, depicted with the four decapitated heads and a super-sized imperial eagle in the left background of the broadsheet. The symbolic implication, communicated and enhanced by the broadsheet, is quite obvious: The ringleaders and the revolt are to be commemorated as a serious political crime. This was emphasized by the total demolition of Fettmilch’s house shown in the foreground of the illustration on the right and the infamous shaving, flogging and banning of his family depicted in the background on the right: the total social disintegration and exclusion of the main ringleader — comprising his family, his name, his house — for eternal memory (“zum ewigen Gedächtnuß”). Apart from the ringleaders and their families, the punishment of other rebels (17 associates and followers) by flogging and banning, shown in the background on the left, seems almost lenient. In addition to the punishment of the rebels, the restitution of the legal and imperial order is represented by the re-entry of the Jewish community in form of a procession, just passing the scaffold.

All other broadsides dealing with the punishment of the rebels depict the same scene and make use of similar iconic elements: scaffold, armed soldiers, imperial posts and eagle, the dismembering of the Schwurfinger and decapitation, the tower with the heads, the gallows with the quartered corpses, whipping and expulsion, the demolition of the house, the re-entry of the Jews etc.

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Entry Filed under: 17th Century,Arts and Literature,Beheaded,Businessmen,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Germany,Gibbeted,History,Holy Roman Empire,Martyrs,Popular Culture,Public Executions,Revolutionaries,Torture,Treason

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1794: Jean-Pierre du Teil, Napoleon mentor

1 comment February 27th, 2019 Headsman

On this date in 1794, the French artillery general Jean-Pierre du Teil was guillotined at Lyon.

The baron du Teil (English Wikipedia entry | French) numbered among many ancien regime officers whose talents were needed but allegiances were suspect in the citizens’ army of revolutionary France. Such figures were forever vulnerable to attack as secret royalists; du Teil while serving in the Army of the Alps fell prey to that very charge made by the ferocious Jacobin rulers of Lyon, Collot d’Herbois and Joseph Fouche.

He’s noteworthy to posterity as a mentor to the young Napoleon Bonaparte at the Royal Artillery School of Auxonne. Du Teil took notice of the precocious teenage artillerist and honored him with special assignments — “a mark of unheard-of favor,” Napoleon gushed in private correspondence.

Napoleon upon his death left 100,000 francs in his will to du Teil’s son “as a token of gratitude for the care this great general took in me.”

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

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1852: Hélène Jégado, serial arsenic murderer

Add comment February 26th, 2019 Headsman

Prolific French poisoner Hélène Jégado was guillotined on this date in 1852.

An orphaned peasant, Jegado (English Wikipedia entry | French) made her way as a domestic servant which was a very fine situation for exploring her true passion of insinuating arsenic into folks’ meals.

This Jegado did with astonishing frequency in her 18 years as Brittany’s Locusta: though condemned for just three successful murders, her body count is thought to run well into the twenties or thirties. Although she was a habitual petty thief as well, she was a true serial killer for whom only a handful of her many murders redounded to some palpable benefit for her. She killed from a compulsion.

For example, as the servant of a village cure, she brazenly poisoned off seven people in 1833,* including the priest himself and her own sister Anne Jegado. But the village had been ravaged by cholera in recent months and Helene Jegado by all accounts made for a convincingly bereaved tragic actress. Amazingly, nobody got suspicious, enabling her to poison off her own aunt and two other people when she returned to her own town to bury that dearly departed sister. For the next several years she kept moving and moving, new lodgings in new towns throughout Brittany but over and over again in a position to season the soup. Surprising and sudden deaths repeatedly occurred in her proximity but the pattern never caught anyone’s eye.

Her fire for the inheritance powder mostly burned out by about 1841 when she had a suspected 23 victims to her name. “I am going into retreat,” she’s said to have strangely declared to an employer who caught her stealing in 1841. “God has forgiven me my sins!” Then the suspicious deaths stopped.

At this point, Helene Jegado was pushing 40. Maybe she thought to cleanse her soul and make a fresh and un-homicidal start, or simply to retire her murder spree while she was so very far ahead. Maybe the sensational Marie Lafarge arsenic case of 1840 scared her straight and made her aware of dangerous forensics advances. There was also some idea that she had somehow procured a large stockpile of arsenic at the outset of her career, but discarded it in a panic the first time that she felt herself in danger of being accused.

Whatever the reason for her lull, she seems to have managed the cold turkey program admirably for a good long time … but surely somewhere inside her lurked the hunger to again give rein to her compulsion.

The last days of 1849 find her at Rennes, where she resumed just as suddenly as she had stopped: the ailing son of a couple who employed her as their only servant was suddenly finished off through his porridge, and then the couple themselves sickened by another meal (they survived). Now the bit was again in her teeth and she ran with it through a series of employers: in the course of just weeks she made fresh attacks in the Ozanne household, upon the family’s little son (he died); in the hotel owned by Monsieur Roussell, upon the proprietor’s mother (she survived) and a rival servant (she died).

By the autumn of 1850 she again had her fresh — and her final — employment, with the law professor and sometime politician Theophile Bidard.

Yet it was not the sharp observations or relentless deductions of her scholar-master that exposed Helene Jegado: it was a want of sangfroid downright shocking in one who had already filled so many tombs. When another servant of the Bidards died unexpectedly, Rennes medical men who suspected poisoning called on Bidard. Jegado answered the door, and upon hearing them announce their mission to the man of the house she unnecessarily blurted out an assertion of innocence. Nobody had even mentioned her.

Once she invited everyone’s suspicion the rest followed inevitably. Bodies she had given Rennes households to bury during the preceding year showed clear evidence of arsenic poisoning when exhumed, and the pattern of deaths associated with her — even though they lay beyond prosecution — seemingly confirmed the worst. Helene denied all but went to the guillotine on the Champ-de-Mars at Rennes on February 26, 1852.

* These seven and most of the others attributed to Helene Jegado’s potions are merely irresistible inference; she was detected long past any opportunity to establish direct proof of her hand behind any of the pre-1849 deaths.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,France,Guillotine,Murder,Public Executions,Serial Killers,Women

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1663: William Dillon, anatomized and diarized

Add comment February 25th, 2019 Headsman

On this date in 1663, a very pious William Dillon lost his life for a murder during a brawl on London’s Long Acre. Whether he gained, as he anticipated, his eternal soul, surpasseth the understanding of this site. But he achieved, at least, a small measure of literary immortality.

Good People, I stand here a Spectacle to God, Angels and Men, sad and deplorable (I believe) to you, but in my inward Reflections on my Regenerate Estate, in my dear and blessed Saviour Jesus, full of Spiritual Hopes and Comfort.

I declare my self to you all a true and constant Christian, an Apostolical Romane Catholick, and on that account, I am particularly obliged to protest that my hopes are totally and solely placed in the Al-sufficient [sic] Merits of my glorious Redeemer, from whose Merits, the Merits of Man receive their total supernatural condignity and worth. To help the compleating of the Sufferings of his own Body, in his mystical, I am come here to participate of his beloved Crosse, sanctified and dignified by his own most pretious blood.

I give thanks to those deserving and charitable Persons, who desired and endeavoured my longer Life, for my better Repentance and amendment. But although they have failed in their Merciful Intercessions for me, there is an Advocate with the Father, even Jesus Christ the Just, whose Power is infinite, to save to the uttermost.

As I infold my self in the Arms of his rich and embracing Mercy, so I would be joyned with you all in his Divine, as I am in my own derived charity.

I wish you all good, as I should have done that very person, if known to me, for whose Death I am condemned. God Omniscient knoweth my Innocency in that particular, being in my Conscience so clear and free from that guilt, that to my knowledge I never touched the Man. May they have the benefit of the blood of Christ, who have occasioned the losse of mine; and God forgive me in His, as I do them for my own.

After his execution, Dillon was anatomized: it is thanks to this posthumous punishment that we meet him, or at any rate his cold kidneys and ureters and heart and lungs, two days after death through the pen of London diarist Samuel Pepys — a man we’ve run into several times before. Here in its chatty entirety is Pepys’s entry for February 27, 1663:

Up and to my office, whither several persons came to me about office business. About 11 o’clock, Commissioner Pett and I walked to Chyrurgeon’s Hall (we being all invited thither, and promised to dine there); where we were led into the Theatre; and by and by comes the reader, Dr. Tearne, with the Master and Company, in a very handsome manner: and all being settled, he begun his lecture, this being the second upon the kidneys, ureters, &c., which was very fine; and his discourse being ended, we walked into the Hall, and there being great store of company, we had a fine dinner and good learned company, many Doctors of Phisique, and we used with extraordinary great respect.

Among other observables we drank the King’s health out of a gilt cup given by King Henry VIII. to this Company, with bells hanging at it, which every man is to ring by shaking after he hath drunk up the whole cup. There is also a very excellent piece of the King, done by Holbein, stands up in the Hall, with the officers of the Company kneeling to him to receive their Charter.

After dinner Dr. Scarborough took some of his friends, and I went along with them, to see the body alone, which we did, which was a lusty fellow, a seaman, that was hanged for a robbery. I did touch the dead body with my bare hand: it felt cold, but methought it was a very unpleasant sight.

It seems one Dillon, of a great family, was, after much endeavours to have saved him, hanged with a silken halter this Sessions (of his own preparing), not for honour only, but it seems, it being soft and sleek, it do slip close and kills, that is, strangles presently: whereas, a stiff one do not come so close together, and so the party may live the longer before killed. But all the Doctors at table conclude, that there is no pain at all in hanging, for that it do stop the circulation of the blood; and so stops all sense and motion in an instant.

Thence we went into a private room, where I perceive they prepare the bodies, and there were the kidneys, ureters [&c.], upon which he read to-day, and Dr. Scarborough upon my desire and the company’s did show very clearly the manner of the disease of the stone and the cutting and all other questions that I could think of … how the water [comes] into the bladder through the three skins or coats just as poor Dr. Jolly has heretofore told me.

Thence with great satisfaction to me back to the Company, where I heard good discourse, and so to the afternoon Lecture upon the heart and lungs, &c., and that being done we broke up, took leave, and back to the office, we two, Sir W. Batten, who dined here also, being gone before.

Here late, and to Sir W. Batten’s to speak upon some business, where I found Sir J. Minnes pretty well fuddled I thought: he took me aside to tell me how being at my Lord Chancellor‘s to-day, my Lord told him that there was a Great Seal passing for Sir W. Pen, through the impossibility of the Comptroller’s duty to be performed by one man; to be as it were joynt-comptroller with him, at which he is stark mad; and swears he will give up his place, and do rail at Sir W. Pen the cruellest; he I made shift to encourage as much as I could, but it pleased me heartily to hear him rail against him, so that I do see thoroughly that they are not like to be great friends, for he cries out against him for his house and yard and God knows what. For my part, I do hope, when all is done, that my following my business will keep me secure against all their envys. But to see how the old man do strut, and swear that he understands all his duty as easily as crack a nut, and easier, he told my Lord Chancellor, for his teeth are gone; and that he understands it as well as any man in England; and that he will never leave to record that he should be said to be unable to do his duty alone; though, God knows, he cannot do it more than a child. All this I am glad to see fall out between them and myself safe, and yet I hope the King’s service well done for all this, for I would not that should be hindered by any of our private differences.

So to my office, and then home to supper and to bed.

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Entry Filed under: 17th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Hanged,History,Murder,Public Executions

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1525: Jacques de La Palice, “lapalissade”

Add comment February 24th, 2019 Headsman

On this date in 1525, a French marshal’s was executed during a crucial battle of the France-vs-Habsburg Italian War, beginning a long posthuous journey to a wordplay gag.


The Battle of Pavia, by Ruprecht Heller (1529).

The Battle of Pavia is best remembered for the fate — not lethal, but much more damaging to statecraft — of King Francis I of France, who was captured on the field by the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V.* Francis spent two years in comfortable but discomfiting imperial custody until he agreed to the humiliating Treaty of Madrid ceding vast tracts of French territory (notably Burgundy) to Charles.**

For all that, Francis kept his head and eventually resumed his station. Jacques de La Palice (English Wikipedia entry | the much longer French) did not exit the Battle of Pavia nearly so well.

The lord of La Palice (or Lapalisse), grandson to a comrade of Joan of Arc, our man had spent a lifetime bearing French arms; he’d been personally knighted by King Charles VIII for his prowess at age 15 in his very first engagement.

The great bulk of his time ever since had been spent on various campaigns in Italy, where France remained more or less continuously at war against the Holy Roman Empire until 1559.

Fighting up and down the peninsula, La Palice earned the impressive rank of Grand Master of France, and it had nothing to do with his chess acumen. He’d actually retired to the pleasures of domesticity after being captured in 1513 at the Battle of the Spurs — so named for the panicked spurring a fleeing French cavalry gave to their horses — only to be recalled to his post in 1515.

Late in 1524 he was among the host accompanying King Francis’s march to recover France’s on-again, off-again transalpine beachhead of Milan. This objective the French achieved with scant resistance, but the expedition turned disastrous in a further advance to Pavia. There, 9,000 imperial troops were dug in to defend; unable to take the city by storm the French put it to siege, fatally overextending themselves.

Come the following February, the Habsburgs had cut Pavia off from Milan and the French encampment was weakened by defecting mercenaries. On the morning of February 24, the imperial forces mounted an attack on the French that turned into a comprehensive slaughter. La Palice was captured early on by the Habsburgs’ landsknecht mercenaries and executed by them at some point later on during the fight. Although his fate was a bit more premeditated, he was only one of many blue-blooded commanders who lost their lives on the field that dark day for France† — suspending French ambitions in Italy, if only for a few years.

The knight’s alleged feats are celebrated in a ballad known as “La chanson de la Palisse” (“The Song of La Palice”). Rather, there are dozens of versions of that ditty, dating from the 16th to the 18th century, of unknown original authorship but agglomerated by the French poet Bernard de la Monnoye into a humorous caper in the 18th century.

This poem presumably (though not certainly) began as a genuine praise song for the dead marshal, opening with this garment-rending stanza:

Hélas, La Palice est mort,
Il est mort devant Pavie ; 
Hélas, s’il n’était pas mort, 
Il ferait encore envie.

Alas, La Palice is dead, 
He died before Pavia; 
Alas, if he were not dead, 
He would still be envied.

Somewhere along the way fulsome became winsome — perhaps via deliberate spoof or maybe the well-known phenomenon of old-timey letter s written to look like f, transforming the verse into a comical tautology:

s’il n’etait pas mort, / Il ferait encore envie (“if he was not dead he would still be envied”)

s’il n’etait pas mort, / Il serait encore en vie (“if he was not dead he would still be alive”)

It’s thanks to this amusing misreading that the French tongue today enjoys the term lapalissade, meaning a laughably obvious truism — and in Monnoye’s composition the entirety of the lyrics consist of such jests; e.g.

Monsieur d’la Palisse is dead,
He died before Pavia,
A quarter of an hour before his death,
He was still alive.

He was, by a sad fate, 
wounded with a cruel hand.
It is believed, since he is dead,
that the wound was mortal.

Regretted by his soldiers,
he died worthy of envy;
And the day of his death
was the last day of his life.

He died on Friday,
the last day of his age;
If he had died on Saturday,
he would have lived more.

(That’s just an excerpt; the much longer full French verse is available at the song’s French Wikipedia page.)

* Ample unverifiable folklore attaches an event so memorable as the capture of a king; a site such as this is bound to note the one that reports that Francis might have been killed on the spot by rampaging foes but for the timely intercession of a young Spanish soldier named Pedro de Valdivia … who would go on to become the conquistador of Chile, and eventually an execution victim himself.

** Francis renounced the treaty as soon as he was released, on the accurate grounds that it was made under duress. In this betrayal of honor, he did his kingdom much the better turn than his distant predecessor John II had done when, captured by the English during the Hundred Years’ War, he dutifully set about extracting from his subjects the ruinous ransom and even returned voluntarily to English custody when he could not fulfill the terms of his parole.

† Another corpse at the Battle of Pavia was Richard de la Pole, Plantagenet pretender to the English throne ever since his brother had been executed back in 1513.

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Entry Filed under: 16th Century,Arts and Literature,Borderline "Executions",Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,France,Habsburg Realm,History,Holy Roman Empire,Italy,No Formal Charge,Nobility,Soldiers,Summary Executions,Wartime Executions

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1719: Lt. Edward Bird, ungentlemanly

Add comment February 23rd, 2019 Headsman

Three hundred years ago today, a bad-tempered brute called Lieutenant Edward Bird found he could not buy his way out of a noose.

This man’s journey to the halter began in a bagnio, where he was supposed to be relaxing but instead threw such a fit over the servants’ delay in drawing a bath that the master and mistress of the house were roused in the middle of the night to quell him — for (per the trial record) “I have seve[ral] of consideration in my House” being perturbed by the racket. To this Lt. Bird replied by immediately running servant Samuel Loxton through with his sword, killing him instantly; it’s a good job that the owners were both there together, along with another servant, for all were needed to subdue the guest as he ranted threats to murder all the rest of them. At least, that was their evidence against him; Bird’s story was that they attacked him first, and he had dispatched poor Mr. Loxton in self-defense.

At the time, ordinary criminal prosecutions were privately initiated, and so it fell to the servant’s poor widow Diana to bring the case against Edward Bird.

Although not of high estate, Bird had the werewithal to make himself less accessible to Diana Loxton’s justice than the average footpad or highwayman — first using actual or feigned illness to slow-walk his arraignment from October of 1718 to January of 1719, then calling to his defense “several Persons of Credit and Worth” who attested “his Reputation and peaceable demeanour, [and] who gave him a very good Character.”

Despite his condemnation he must have called on these same reserves of social capital liberally in the subsequent five weeks, for that diligent Ordinary of Newgate named Paul Lorrain was exasperated to find that he could barely get a word in edgewise so preoccupied was his charge with his more corporeal affairs:

I found him always so busie, sometimes in Writing, and at other times with Company, that I could hardly have any Opportunity to speak to him of his Future State. Nevertheless I endeavour’d to prepare him for his great Change, and for a better Life, by perswading him sincerely to repent of all the Sins he had committed in this, and earnestly to pray for GOD’s Pardon and Mercy, through the infinite Merits of CHRIST: Which if he did not now he had time; for it, I desir’d him seriously to consider what might become of him to all Eternity. To this he seem’d to give a little Attention; but something coming into his Mind which he said he must do presently, he desir’d me to leave him; saying, he would send for me another time, when he was at leisure. Accordingly he did, but when I came to him, I found he had not sent for me to pray by him, or discourse him about Divine Matters, but only to shew me the Draught of a Paper which he said he had prepar’d by the help of a Friend, and which he intended to publish. Upon this, after I had (as he desir’d I should) read it, I told him plainly, that the Drift of that Paper, being to insinuate he had not Justice done him at his Trial, he must not think that the World would believe him to be (as he endeavour’d to appear) innocent of the Murder he Was condemn’d for.

Bird did indeed publish such a document. His potentially most compelling juridical claim was one that would strike the modern reader as an utter irrelevancy, but that went to the heart of system of private prosecutions: Bird argued that Samuel Loxton was a bigamist and thus Diana Loxton nee Seedwell as his second wife had no standing to harry him in the courts. This of course entailed besmirching the reputation of the victim and his surviving family and in-laws; with his life on the line, Bird was bold enough to put out payola for dirt on the Loxtons, and even to feel out Diana Loxton herself for the price of her cooperation.* Call it a bit of blood money, payment to be rendered in guineas for reputation.

It’s hard to gauge how much traction this appeal ever gained with the elites in a position to spare Bird’s life. Surely with a more pliable prosecutor he might have had a hand to play: to his grief, he discovered that Diana Loxton was a foe whose tenacity ran quite a bit deeper than his purse.

The London Saturday’s Post reported on February 21 that the incensed widow “presented a petition to his Majesty when he came from Chappel, setting forth the many Difficulties which she laboured under to bring the said Lieutenant to Justice; His Majesty, moved at her just Complaint, ordered a Cabinet Council to meet the next Day, and the Deputy Recorder of London to attend, in order to re-examine the Matter; when the Board, shocked at the wicked Artifices that had been made use of to obstruct the Course of Justice, his Majesty … was pleased to order a Warrant to be made out for the Execution of the said Criminal on Monday next at Tyburn.”

Bird fought his losing corner to the end, even resorting to poisoning and stabbing himself on the eve of his hanging in an attempt to cheat the gallows. All was for naught.

Carried to Tyburn in a comfortable mourning coach where he tarried an hour with his mother (plus three other, all of whom, says Lorrain, “could work no Good on him”), Bird one last time “inveigh’d against Diana Loxton, saying, that if he had time, he could prove she was the second Wife of the Deceas’d, and therefore had no Right to bring an Appeal. He ask’d for a Glass of Wine at the Tree, and being told there was none, he desired a Pinch of Snuff, which was given him.” (London Post Boy, Feb. 21-24, 1719) Then with a salute to the health of his gathered gentlemen friends, who would within the hour claim his body to protect it from the scalpels of ravenous doctors, Lt. Bird was noosed up and turned off, dragged down by the weight of all those unspent gratuities still a-pocket.

* e.g., Powell’s Weekly Journal, Feb. 14-21 1719, speaking of the widow’s outraged reaction to “an Account of that Trial come out, seemingly calculated for the Advantage of the Criminal, and with all the Disadvantages on the side of the Prosecution, by the means of a Printer, who, it is to be feared, did not shut his Eyes against Bribes, as she has done.” She insists against any public suspicion of “being privy to any Intercession that is said to be making in Favour of the Murtherer of her deceased Husband, and to giv[ing] Ear to any Terms of Accommodation with the hateful Cause of his Death, by way of Premium and Reward, in Exchange for his Blood” for these “are Actions so abhorrent to her Nature and unalterable Affection for his dear Memory, as not to be passed by without the utmost Protestations of her Innocence … she has Knowledge of some Application intended to be made to her for putting a Stop to the Prosecution of the Lieutenant before Trial; and a Relation can bear her Witness, that she was offered 100 Guineas to make interest with her to take 2000 l. for that End”; likewise another servant, Loxton claims, turned down “a considerable yearly Estate to be settled upon him and his Children for ever” and instead testified against Lt. Bird, while a charwoman in the Loxton house was offered and refused 40 quid for “swearing any thing scandalous relating to the said House.”

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1916: Phan Xich Long, mystic insurgent

Add comment February 22nd, 2019 Headsman

Vietnamese mystic Phan Xich Long was executed on this date in 1916 by the French, after attempting to expel their occupation and situate himself as Emperor of Vietnam.

In his youth a peripatetic fortune-teller and geomancer, Phan Phát Sanh (as he was then known) formed a secret society by 1911 centered around enforcing his rights as the purported long-lost descendant of Ham Nghi — an 1880s emperor whose short reign ended in French captivity.

By 1912 he was barnstorming the Mekong Delta in saffron robes, buttressing his pretense to the throne with all the aspirations and disappointments of an occupied people. It was now that he took the name by which history recalls him, meaning “Red Dragon”, orchestrated a coronation ceremony, and set himself at the head of a movement equal parts messianic and patriotic, gradually cementing the credibility of his royal bona fides through various rumors and forgeries. The would-be emperor and his adherents made no bones at all about their rebellious intent; Long wielded a ceremonial sword inscribed with the words “First strike the debauched king, next the traitorous officials”.

Debauched kings and traitorous officials had other plans as they usually do, and the French managed to arrest the Red Dragon on the eve of his planned rising on March 1913. It went off anyway; few followers yet realized that their emperor was in manacles, though they soon realized that the invisibility potions that the mystic had prepared for them were nothing of the sort. The rebellion was crushed within days.

Parked in Saigon Central Prison serving a sentence of life at hard labor, Long perceived his moment to strike again when a national mood deteriorating under the privations of World War I birthed another royalist revolt in early 1916. Long evidently maintained secret contacts with these rebels, and his liberation was the objective of their attack upon his prison — and whose failure resulted in Long’s speedy execution under the auspices of a military court that also condemned 57 other insurgents.*

They hadn’t seen the last of him: years later another rabble-rouser would claim to be Phan Xich Long’s reincarnation. Today, there’s a street named for Phan Xich Long in Saigon.

* These appear to me to have been executed by musketry (military court, mind) rather than guillotine but few sources I’ve seen are prepared to take an explicit stand on this detail.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,France,History,Martyrs,Occupation and Colonialism,Power,Pretenders to the Throne,Religious Figures,Revolutionaries,Shot,Vietnam,Wartime Executions

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1595: Robert Southwell

Add comment February 21st, 2019 Headsman

February 2O, 1594-5, [Father Robert] Southwell, a Jesuit, that long time had lain prisoner in the Tower of London, was arraigned at the King’s-bench bar. He was condemned, and on the next morning drawn from Newgate to Tyburn, and there hanged, bowelled and quartered.

-Chronicle of John Stow

Youngest child in a gentry household of Catholic-leaning Norfolk, Robert Southwell was for holy orders and martyr’s laurels from the jump; in 1576 at the tender age of 15, he made for Douai and its English seminary, noted for training missionary priests who would return secretly to Elizabethan England to court torture and death for the Word. Within a decade he was a prefect at the English College in Rome and a fully armed and operational member of the Society of Jesus.

In 1586, Southwell sailed for his homeland with fellow Jesuit Henry Garnet, who would one day go to the gallows for Guy Fawkes’s Gunpowder Plot.

For Southwell, the pen was mightier than such detonations.

“St. Peter’s Complaint” (Excerpt)
by Robert Southwell

Ah! life, sweet drop, drown’d in a sea of sours,
A flying good, posting to doubtful end;
Still losing months and years to gain new hours,
Fain times to have and spare, yet forced to spend;
Thy growth, decrease; a moment all thou hast.
That gone ere known; the rest, to come, or past.

Ah! life, the maze of countless straying ways,
Open to erring steps and strew’d with baits.
To bind weak senses into endless strays,
Aloof from Virtue’s rough, unbeaten straits
A flower, a play, a blast, a shade, a dream,
A living death, a never-turning stream.

Quietly nestled in as the house confessor to Catholic noblewoman Anne Howard, Southwell scratched out page after page to fortify the hearts of the beleaguered Old Faith — standard stuff like martyrology testimony concerning his brother priests, overt manifestos like An humble supplication to Her Maiestie, and literary bestsellers admired by Protestant countrymen like Mary Magdalene’s Funeral Tears and his verse collection St. Peter’s Complaint, and Other Poems.*

This last appeared posthumously. After three years’ imprisonment — “I am decayed in memory with long and close imprisonment, and I have been tortured ten times,” the imminent martyr said of his handling by notorious Catholic-hunter Richard Topcliffe; “I had rather have endured ten executions” — Southwell was brought to the bar on February 20, 1595, to answer as a traitor and put to the traitor’s death the very next day.

Though less widely familiar now, his literary output was well-known and highly regarded long after he died, and perhaps influenced many other writers including Shakespeare. The Catholic Church elevated Southwell to sainthood in 1970.

* A couple of Southwell’s epistles are preserved in the 1741 volume Memoirs of Missionary Priests.

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Entry Filed under: 16th Century,Artists,Arts and Literature,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Drawn and Quartered,England,Execution,God,Gruesome Methods,History,Intellectuals,Martyrs,Public Executions,Religious Figures,Torture,Treason

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1942: The Laha Massacre

Add comment February 20th, 2019 Headsman

On this date in 1942, 200-plus Australian and Dutch prisoners captured after the Battle of Ambon earlier that same year were summarily executed near Laha Airfield on present-day Maluku, Indonesia. It was the last and the largest of a series of POW executions in the days following the February 3 conclusion of the battle; collectively, they’re known as the Laha Massacre.*

The individual incidents, timelines, and body counts of the several incidents are reported with a good deal of variance and conflation in the sites describing these horrible days, but the evening of February 20 as the consummating atrocity appears to me solidly attested — as does the destruction of a Japanese minesweeper during the battle (by this time, an event that was a couple of weeks past) as one of the motivations. The Japanese officer tasked with conducting the butchery, a Captain Nakagawa, recorded the event in a grim diary entry. (According to Ambon: The Truth About One of the Most Brutal POW Camps in World War II and the Triumph of the Aussie Spirit, Nakagawa did not approve of the executions, but he obeyed his orders.)

The prisoners of war were brought by truck from the barracks to the detachment headquarters, and marched from there to the plantation. The same way of killing was adopted as before, i.e. they were made to kneel down with their eyes bandaged and they were killed with sword or bayonet. The poor victims numbered about two hundred and twenty in all, including some Australian officers.

The whole affair took from 6 p.m. to 9.30 p.m. Most of the corpses were buried in one hole, but because the hole turned out not to be big enough to accommodate all the bodies an adjacent dug-out was also used as a grave.

LOS NEGROS, March 9 (A.A.P.-Reuter) — The Australian War Crimes Court here yesterday heard how Japanese sailors beheaded, bayoneted and shot 200 Australian war prisoners at Ambon in February, 1942.

The massacre lasted four hours.

The prosecutor, Major Alex Mackay, of Perth, told the Court, “The Australians were killed in a spirit of revenge.

They were all killed, so no one could live to tell the story of the massacre.

The Japanese sailors whipped themselves into a frenzy and shouted the names of dead comrades during the killings.

THREE CHARGED

Before the Court are Navy Sub-Lieutenant Takahiko Tsuaki, Warrant-Officer Keigo Kanamoto, and Seaman Shikao Nakamura — all charged with having murdered Australian prisoners.

The names of other former men of the Japanese Navy appear on the charge sheet, but these men have evaded arrest.

Major Mackay said the prisoners were not blindfolded.

They did not know they were going to be executed until they arrived at the side of prepared mass graves.

They had been told they were going swimming.

AFTER SHIP SANK

Major Mackay said the massacre occurred soon after a Japanese minesweeper had struck a mine and sunk in Ambon Bay.

About 20 Japanese were killed.

Survivors of the ship’s company took part in the execution.

One Australian, an officer, managed to loosen his bonds and to seize a rifle from a Japanese, said Major Mackay.

He levelled the rifle at one of his captors and pulled the trigger. But the rifle was not loaded.

Another executioner shot and killed the officer.

“LENT MY SWORD”

In a sworn statement, one of the accused, Kanamoto, said:

Every executioner, without exception, shouted names of fallen comrades and cried ‘in revenge of so-and-so’ as he swung his sword.

Kanamoto denied having executed anyone. He said he lent his sword to a friend so he could take part in the execution.

“Brandishing the naked blade, he let out a yell and brought the sword down,” said Kanamoto.

A head rolled into a prepared pit.

He then beheaded another victim. This time the sword cut too well. The blade, in full swing as it cut off the prisoner’s head, almost touched and wounded my leg.

“MADE TO KNEEL”

In his sworn statement, Tsuaki, another of the accused, said some of the victims were made to kneel facing the grave, and then were bayoneted from the back through the heart.

Another witness said he looked into a grave and saw the bodies of about 20 executed prisoners-of-war.

“I heard some faint moans from inside the grave.”

The trial is expected to last a week.

Tsuaki admitted conducting an execution, “to set a good example to others”: “Observing all the rules of Japanese swordsmanship, I beheaded the victim with one stroke.” He and Kanamoto were both convicted; Kanamoto caught a prison sentence, while Tsuaki was one of five Japanese hanged as war criminals and then buried at sea on June 11, 1951.

These five were the last death sentences of Australia’s controversial post-World War II war crimes proceedings.

* This massacre on Ambon is not to be confused with the 17th century Amboyna Massacre at the same island.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Australia,Beheaded,Execution,History,Indonesia,Japan,Known But To God,Mass Executions,Netherlands,No Formal Charge,Occupation and Colonialism,Put to the Sword,Soldiers,Summary Executions,Wartime Executions

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1901: Sampson Silas Salmon

Add comment February 19th, 2019 Headsman

“I did it and I will swing for it.”

Said by Samson/Sampson Silas Salmon to the police who found him at the scene with the body of his landlady, her throat slashed nearly to the point of decapitation. Salmon had lost his job, fallen to drinking, and eventually been evicted.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Hanged,Murder

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