Posts filed under 'Capital Punishment'

1401: Llywelyn ap Gruffydd Fychan, an army marching on his stomach

3 comments October 9th, 2010 Jonathan Shipley

(Thanks to Jonathan Shipley of A Writer’s Desk for the guest post. -ed.)

It was on this day that a Welsh squire, Llywelyn ap Gruffydd Fychan, was gruesomely executed for thwarting the efforts of King Henry IV’s forces to squelch Welsh resistance to English rule.

First, the man’s stomach was cut out and cooked in front of him. Then, he was hanged, drawn and quartered.

The torturous execution took several hours before he succumbed to death. Then, a grisly postscript: his salted remains were sent to other Welsh towns to deter Welshmen from opposing the king.

Rewind to October, 1399.

Henry IV has been crowned King of England after overcoming the unpopular Richard II. Henry had his predecessor imprisoned and killed, then displayed at St. Paul’s Cathedral to prove to his supporters that he was gone.

Little surprise much of Henry’s reign was spent defending himself against plots, rebellions and assassination attempts. One rebellion? That of Owain Glydwr, who declared himself Prince of Wales in 1400.

This didn’t sit well with the new king. Armed men were sent out to find this treasonous Welshman. Found them they did, though perhaps they wished they hadn’t. In the summer of 1401, on the slopes of Pumlumon, Owain Glydwr crushed Henry’s army. This, too, did not sit well with the king.

Give me leave
To tell you once again that at my birth
The front of heaven was full of fiery shapes,
The goats ran from the mountains, and the herds
Were strangely clamorous to the frighted fields.
These signs have mark’d me extraordinary;
And all the courses of my life do show
I am not in the roll of common men.
Where is he living, clipp’d in with the sea
That chides the banks of England, Scotland, Wales,
Which calls me pupil, or hath read to me?

-Glendower (Glyndwr) in Shakespeare’s Henry IV, Part I

Henry then led a huge army, arriving in Llandovery, to capture this meddling countryman prince.

It was here that the English military met a 60-year-old man. A land owner from Caeo, his name was Llywelyn ap Gruffydd Fychan and the English army strongly suggested he assist them in helping locate Owain Glydwr. Llywelyn agreed.

Little did the English know, as they chased Glyndwr, that Llywelyn was taking them in the wrong direction.

He had two sons, did this Llywelyn, in Owain’s army. Though he knew he’d undoubtedly pay the ultimate sacrifice, he would not betray the Welsh people and his own family but leading the English king to the insurrectionists.

And so he led the English army on a wild goose chase.

For weeks Llywelyn lead the king and his forces through the uplands of Deheubarth. All the while Owain and his men made their escape the opposite direction to consolidate, grow, and fortify.

The king’s patience became taxed. He began to see that Llywelyn was not taking them to their man.

Angrily, the king drug Llywelyn to the town of Llandovery. In front of the castle gates, there in the town square, he was disemboweled and dismembered. Though Glyndwr’s war of liberation fizzled out, Owain was never captured nor betrayed.

Fast forward to the year 2001.

600 years after Llywelyn’s execution, a sculpture is erected. Standing 16 feet tall, erected by the castle he died in front of, is a statue of a cloaked figure, spear and shield in hand, atop a stone base inscribed with Welsh verse.

It is he, Llywelyn, commemorating his ultimate sacrifice.



Llywelyn’s striking steel statue stands watch over Llandovery. Images (c) Canis Major and stused with permission.

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1927: Martyrdom of Five Christeros

Add comment October 8th, 2010 Headsman

Artist unknown. The inscription reads:

Execution of Cristeros by federal soldiers on the outskirts of San Gabriel, Jalisco, October 8, 1927. On the same site, the soldiers were ambushed, suffering the same fate.

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1924: Frank Johnson, the first electrocuted in Florida

1 comment October 7th, 2010 Headsman

On this date in 1924, “colored male” Frank Johnson was electrocuted in Florida.

He was, in fact, the very first to die in the Sunshine State’s electric chair.


The original Florida electric chair.

“Old Sparky” (numerous electric chairs shared this nickname) was brand new here in the Roaring Twenties, a jerry-built contraption outfitted with “homemade accessories” to replace the icky old gallows with a brave new world’s brave new mankiller.


Top: a scantily-detailed penitentiary “personnel card” for Frank Johnson. Middle: details of the execution. Bottom: Florida’s official typed list of its early executions.

All images are from this Florida Department of Corrections page.

This same furniture that killed Johnson would ultimately take the lives of 265 men and one woman — notables from Giuseppe Zangara to Ted Bundy, milestones like John Spenkelink, and scores of strange and forgotten perps among them.

Notoriously error-prone by the end of its run, the device was finally replaced in 1999.

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1553: Prince Mustafa, heir to Suleiman the Magnificent

9 comments October 6th, 2010 Headsman

On this date in 1553, the capable heir apparent to Ottoman Emperor Suleiman the Magnificent was strangled at dad’s order — casualty of the the realm’s lethal harem politics.

If ’tis state thou seekest like the world-adorning sun’s array,
Lowly e’en as water rub thy face in earth’s dust every day.
Fair to see, but short enduring is this picture bright, the world;
‘Tis a proverb: Fleeting like the realm of dreams is earth’s display.
Through the needle of its eyelash never hath the heart’s thread past;
Like unto the Lord Messiah bide I half-road on the way.
Athlete of the Universe through self-reliance grows the Heart,
With the ball, the Sphere—Time, Fortune—like an apple doth it play.
Mukhlisi, thy frame was formed from but one drop, yet, wonder great!
When thou verses sing’st, thy spirit like the ocean swells, they say.

-Prince Mustafa, about himself

Suleiman’s first-born son by his first concubine, Mustafa seemed well-positioned to emerge in the Ottomans’ fratricidal succession.

The racket: when the current sultan dies, all his sons by his various concubines make a rush from their provincial outposts for the capital and fight it out, the winner killing off his half-brothers to consolidate his rule.

This disorderly ascension made, while dad still lived, for fraught internal politicking among the sons for the inside track: the most prestigious positions, and the assignments closest to Istanbul. The various mothers of the contenders jockeyed just as aggressively on behalf of their various entrants in the imperial sweepstakes.

Mustafa was the capable eldest son in a kingdom at its very acme,* but to his misfortune, and the empire’s too, he found himself pitted against one of the ablest women ever to call the Ottoman harem home: Hürrem Sultan, also known as Roxelana (or Roxolana).

A Ukrainian woman kidnapped to the harem by Tartar slavers, Roxelana enchanted Suleiman and soon became his favorite. Therefore, Roxelana also became the rival, with her son and her own potential heir, to Mustafa and his mother.

As the story is told, Roxelana at length contrived to convince Suleiman that Mustafa was in cahoots with the rival Safavid Empire to supplant Suleiman on the throne; Suleiman had his firstborn summoned to his tent on campaign in Anatolia, and straightaway put to death. He’s supposed to have sat by the body in grief for days afterwards, and barely averted a revolt by his elite Janissaries, who much favored the talented Mustafa.

“This terrible tragedy exercised an effect on Ottoman affairs resembling that which the Massacre of St. Bartholomew had on the history of France,” according to The Cambridge Modern History (vol. 3). Roxelana’s unimpressive son “Prince Selim, in whose favour the crime was committed, was the first of a series of degenerate Sultans, sunk in pleasure-seeking or stricken with Imperial mania, under whose sway the Empire went to ruin.”

Consequently, Mustafa is still mourned in Turkey as a tragic turning-point; visitors pay homage to his tomb at Bursa.

Westerners had word of this fascinating palace intrigue through diplomatic correspondents who were not privy to the actual harem, and adopted the story themselves while imaginatively filling in the orientalizing details. Inevitably these imaginings have helped shape the story as it comes to us.

The scenario blending the familiar and the exotic — a European in the court of the Turk; a slave woman dominating the conqueror; fratricidal princes and the alluring seraglio — all set in the heart of the feared Muslim state proved irresistible to literary interlocutors. These made of Suleiman, Mustafa (Mustapha), and Roxelana moral fables, theater (endorsed by Samuel Pepys!), symphony

… and opera (many librettos, this by Hasse):

Not to mention, of course, more titillating fare.

* The PBS documentary Islam, The Empire of Faith does engrossing coverage of Suleiman (including his relationship with Roxelana and the execution of Mustafa) in these video segments: 3, 4, 5.

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1922: C.C. Stassen, white miner

2 comments October 5th, 2010 Headsman

On this date in 1922, white miner Carel Christian Stassen was hanged in South Africa for murdering two blacks during the recent Rand Rising.

Also known as the Rand Rebellion or Rand Revolt, this rising saw a strike by white miners transmuted into outright insurrection … before being ruthlessly suppressed.

This seminal event in 20th century South Africa is also a classic study in the indeterminate solidarity of race and class, and would help set the stage for the apartheid system to come.

In the years preceding the Rand Revolt, an aristocracy of skilled white miners found itself, er, undermined by the sinking price of gold and the vast pool of underpaid black miners who had long been consigned to strictly unskilled jobs.

When white miners went on strike as the calendar turned to 1922, it was — self-consciously — in defense of white privilege: specifically, a color bar protecting white semi-skilled positions from black competition which white mine owners intended to breach.

In a context where the vast majority of mine workers overall were black, the strikers rallied under the banner,

“Workers of the world, unite and fight for a white South Africa!”


Note the sign in the lower left with the racialized twist that old labor slogan.

Inspiring stuff.

The strike’s peculiar dynamics bear all manner of historical inquiry. In its opening months, South Africa’s native black laborers were entirely left out, neither engaged as potential allies (obviously) nor targeted as “scabs” or enemies (more surprisingly).

But this just-among-whites dispute broke out of the family around March 7-9 when — on the very eve of military conflict with Jan Smuts‘ government — rumors swept the white strikers’ communities “that the natives were fighting the Whites … and that the Strikers and Police were working in conjunction to suppress the natives,” that “the kaffirs will kill us all.”

The quotes are actual period citations given in Jeremy Krikler’s 1999 article “The Inner Mechanics of a South African Racial Massacre,” in The History Journal, Dec. 1999. Krikler’s subsequent book, White Rising: The 1922 Insurrection and Racial Killing in South Africa, explores this topic in much greater detail.

In Richard Seymour’s summary,

they took their appeal to be part of the white community seriously, and in their murders dramatised their desire to be in solidarity with the institutions of white supremacy that were about to massacre them: it was as if to re-direct the fire onto the ‘real’ menace, as opposed to the respectable white workers who only wanted their fair share.

C.C. Stassen was one of those conducting dramatic murder — in his case, of two natives in what Stassen insisted was self-defense against an aggressive black mob.

As one can discern from his presence in these pages, however, Stassen’s homicides did not arouse a sentiment of solidarity among the country’s owners. Shortly after crushing the revolt in March (around 200 people died) they gave notice of their preference for class consciousness above race consciousness, hanging Stassen over the objections of labor unions in South Africa and abroad.

The legacy of the Rand Rising and the hangings of Stassen and others was the Pact Government, an alliance of white miners and Afrikaans farmers that ousted Smuts in a 1924 election.

Even though this new state arrangement proceeded to firm up race privilege in the mining sector with the piquantly named “Colour Bar Act”,* it did so on the basis of the victors’ terms established by the Rand Revolt.

The Pact Government … … ensure[d] that skilled work on the mines remained the preserve of whites, [but] it made no attempt to reverse what the mine owners had achieved: the expulsion of whites from a range of semi-skilled occupations … White wages fell markedly and labour militancy was terminated. The Rand — site of enormous battles in the early twentieth century — never again saw a significant white mineworkers’ strike. The curtain came down upon an epoch of white labour. Whatever revolutionary tradition it had had, was rooted out forever.

-White Rising

* The National Party that enacted the Colour Bar Act would, when it next controlled the government in 1948, establish apartheid.

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1689: Quirinus Kuhlmann, mystic poet

1 comment October 4th, 2010 Headsman

“Seldom is a poet burned alive, no matter how critics may roast his work!”

-Robert Beale

On this date in 1689, German poet and mystic Quirinus Kuhlmann was roasted in Moscow for heresy.

This Silesian millenarian (English Wikipedia entry | German) experienced a mystical conversion and spent his law school hours instead scribbling visionary poetry and devouring visionary texts.

Inflamed with Bohmian fire, I read Bohme with fiery eagerness and capacity. I did not know the Bohmian texts and I knew them the same day. What an admiration (o Jesus!) overcame me when I heard Bohme tell his revelations which I had learned from the universe of nature, with God as my teacher, it were the revelations the first outlines of which I just had begun to delineate in my own works.

-Quoted in Toward the Millennium: Messianic Expectations from the Bible to Waco

Quirinus’s particular vibe was an end-times kingdom of Jesus thing with the Catholic Church as the Antichrist. He cast about Europe vainly imploring princes to ally — Protestants with Orthodox with Mussulmen — to destroy the papal whore of Babylon. This

Prince of Fanatics … wrote a book, entitled Prodromus Quinquennii Mirabilis, and published at Leyden in 1674, in which he set forth his peculiar views. He stated that in that same year the Fifth Monarchy or the Christian Kingdom was about to commence, that he himself would bring forth a son from his own wife, that this son by many miracles would found the kingdom, and that he himself was the Son of God. On account of these mad ravings he was exiled by the Chief of the United Provinces of the Netherlands, and expelled with infamy from the University of Leyden. But his strange mission did not cease. He wandered for some time in France and England … He then proceeded to Turkey on his mission, and presented himself to the Sultan. Although ignorant of the language of the country, he persuaded himself that he could speak in any tongue; but when they led him into the presence of the Sultan he waited in vain for the burning words of eloquence to flow. The Turks dealt with him according to his folly, and bestowed on him a sound thrashing. Thence he proceeded to Russia …

Kuhlmann could have picked a better time to evangelize Russia than the reign of Peter the Great. This progressive despot did indeed look west for Russia’s future: in industry, in law, in war, even in fashion. But certainly not in holy alliances.

It was a fellow-German in Moscow, a Lutheran pastor, who denounced Kuhlmann as a dangerous heretic. He and a follower were duly burned as such.

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2008: A son, all in the family

2 comments October 3rd, 2010 Headsman

On this date in 2008, Abura Apalalu of Longorinyangai village, Namalu Sub-county, in Nakapiripirit District of Uganda convened a traditional (but illegal) tribunal to try his two sons for raping their sister.

Apalalu found the youths guilty and condemned his own flesh and blood to death … after which they were both beaten by fellow-villagers, one of them fatally.

The incident illustrates the challenge of getting people in the Karamoja region, where traditional systems are used to serve justice, to conform to the rule of law as enshrined in Uganda’s constitution.

Last year alone, according to the UPDF 3rd Division spokesman, Capt. Henry Obbo, five people were hanged on orders of the Karimojong traditional clan court sitting at Namalu in Nakapiripirit District.

Nakapiripirit District Community Development Officer Michael Edikoi says under the traditional justice system, a person who kills is supposed to be killed. “You are told to dig two graves, one for the person you have killed and the other for yourself. Then you are forced to bury the dead before being stoned to death and buried in the other grave next to your victim,” he said.

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1828: Jose Padilla executed

Add comment October 2nd, 2010 Headsman

No, no, not that one. Or that one.

This date saw the 1828 execution by firing squad of Bolivarian independence hero Jose Prudencio Padilla, founder of the Colombian navy.

Padilla’s father was a shipwright, and Padilla took to the sea from his youth in the service of what was then the Spanish colonial domain of New Granada. At the age of 19, he fought Lord Nelson in the Battle of Trafalgar.

This service to the Spanish crown did not loyalty make, and in 1815 Padilla fell in with revolutionary Simon Bolivar.

The mariner’s triumph in the Battle of Lake Maracaibo, completed the Venezuelan War of Independence. (Venezuela and Colombia, along with Ecuador and Panama, were all part of Gran Colombia at this time.)

Like everyone else, however, Padilla made history but not in circumstances of his own choosing.

Independent Gran Colombia was immediately riven with internal political conflict, resolving (to oversimplify) to Bolivar as the increasingly autocratic president, as against his more liberal vice president Santander — a conflict also bound up in sectional and racial divisions that would soon break apart Bolivar’s state.

In 1828, those factions were at daggers drawn over the future shape of Gran Colombia.

Padilla, a multiracial pardo, “had taken the Liberator’s professions of racial equality to an ideological point of no return: neither birth nor skin color should carry any privilege or social status. Instinctively, Bolivar sympathized … but he knew only too well that to acquiesce to the demands of such movements would further alarm a fearful white Creole society.” (Lester Langley, Simón Bolívar: Venezuelan rebel, American revolutionary)

That put Padilla into Santander’s camp — and, like Santander, he would be inculpated for complicity in the plot against Bolivar’s life that struck (unsuccessfully) on September 25, 1828.

Neither Padilla nor Santander was linked to the conspiracy by any direct evidence. But that was only enough to save one of them. As Langley notes,

Under the retributive justice of General Urdaneta, fourteen people of varying degrees of guilt were condemned and executed. One, the pardo Padillo, bore no responsibility for the assault on the Liberator’s life but received a death sentence. Santander, who may have approved but against whom there was no compelling evidence of culpability, was sentenced to death as well, but he escaped execution when Bolivar pardoned him. In yet another instance during his career, Bolivar had drawn a color line. He spared the white Creole but not the pardo.

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1950: The Leningrad Affair “culprits”

1 comment October 1st, 2010 Headsman

Fifty-nine minutes after midnight on this date in 1950, five Soviet cadres were condemned to death in a secret trial on trumped-up charges of treason in one of Stalin’s party purges. An hour later, they were shot.

The “Leningrad Affair” saw Uncle Joe — with the urging of other henchmen jockeying for the imminent post-Stalin succession — liquidate the excessively independent leaders of Russia’s other capital.

During the late World War, the “hero city” Leningrad withstood a withering 28-month Nazi siege stretching from the very first weeks of war into 1944.

In those days there was something in a man’s face which told you that he would die within the next twenty-four hours …

I shall always remember how I’d walk every day from my house near the Tauris Garden to my work in the centre of the city, a matter of two or three kilometres. I’d walk for a-while, and then sit down for a rest. Many a time I saw a man suddenly collapse on the snow. There was nothing I could do. One just walked on. And, on the way back, I would see a vague human form covered with snow on the spot where, in the morning, I had seen a man fall down.

One didn’t worry; what was the good? People didn’t wash for weeks; there were no bath houses and no fuel. But at least people were urged to shave. And during that winter I don’t think I ever saw a person smile. It was frightful. And yet there was a kind of inner discipline that made people carry on.

-A survivor of the siege

This horror cost the lives of a million Leningraders, and tour guides will be sure to point out the physical scars still to be seen.

But the city never fell, and its resistance wrote one of the 20th century’s awe-inspiring monuments to human perseverance. Dmitri Shostakovich, caught in the city himself, composed one of the Great Patriotic War’s most famous musical anthems, defiantly performed by the Leningrad symphony itself during the actual siege, and broadcast on Soviet radio and around the world.

One result of a city’s being carved away from its country — and of consequence to this date’s victims — was that it put Leningrad on increasingly autonomous footing.

Voznesensky, who literally wrote the (incautiously heterodox) book on The Economy of the USSR during World War II

And as the war receded, the men who administered Leningrad were left with an unusual scope of action … bolstered by their recent reputation for anti-fascist heroism. The so-called “Leningraders” had become an embryonic rival power center.

The Leningrad Affair corrected that unwelcome-to-Stalin development with a wholesale purge. While the Soviet judiciary harvested the most illustrious heads on this date — economist Nikolai Voznesensky, Party bigwig Aleksei Kuznetsov — Michael Parrish observes in The lesser terror: Soviet state security, 1939-1953 that

[t]he executions of October 1, 1950, were only the tip of the iceberg … The Leningrad Affair probably claimed more than 1,300 victims, including over 100 who were shot, nearly 2,000 people who were dismissed, and many arrseted.

This day’s victims (though not all those persecuted) were officially rehabilitated during the Khrushchev era; responsibility for the Leningrad Affair even served to condemn one of its authors, NKVD torturer Viktor Abakumov, to death in the 1950s.

But compared to the corpse motel of 1930s USSR, this purge was distinctly small potatoes. One of its survivors — a man who could easily have been condemned on the same evidence that doomed the likes of Kuznetsov — was politician Alexei Kosygin, later to emerge as one of the USSR’s leading liberalizers in the 1960s and (in the words of Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau) “the forerunner of Mikhail Gorbachev.”

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1860: Juan Rafael Mora Porras, President of Costa Rica

Add comment September 30th, 2010 Headsman

This date is the sesquicentennial of former Costa Rican president Juan Rafael Mora Porras’s death by firing squad, for attempting to retake that office from his brother-in-law after being ousted in a coup.

In the mid-19th century, coffee was king in Costa Rica — say, wouldn’t you enjoy a refreshing cup right now? — and Juan Rafael Mora was the young country’s wealthy leading exporter of the ground black gold.

Little wonder he held the presidency for most of the 1850s.

(Signal achievement: allied with American tycoon Cornelius Vanderbilt to help drive filibuster William Walker out of neighboring Nicaragua. Unfortunately, Mora’s army returned home bearing something besides the enemy standards: a cholera epidemic that decimated — literally, killed 10% of — the Costa Rican populace.)

In 1859, while making unwelcome sounds about a national bank not controlled by the coffee barons, Mora was overthrown by another coffee baron — Jose Maria Montealegre.

Rather than leave well enough alone, Mora regrouped in exile and launched an 1860 bid to regain power.

While Juan Rafael Mora was introduced to a firing squad for his trouble, one of his party who was spared that indignity was Mora’s nephew Manuel Arguello Mora, a future novelist and Costa Rican Supreme Court justice.

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