Posts filed under 'History'

1630: Guglielmo Piazza and Giangiacomo Mora, colonna d’infamia

Add comment August 1st, 2019 Headsman

On this date in 1630, a ludicrous disease panic sent two innocent men to the scaffold in Milan.

Terrified as their family and neighbors dropped dead around them of a raging bubonic plague outbreak, the surviving Milanese sprouted buboes on their brains.


1630 illustration of the plague-wracked Milanese doing the bring-out-your-dead thing.

Just days before the executions marked in this post, a city official named Guglielmo Piazza was noticed by some busybodies “strolling down the street writing from an ink-horn at his belt and wiping his ink-stained fingers on the walls of a house.” They promptly reported him not for misdemeanor property damage but for spreading plague poison, whatever that would be.

Investigators to their shame gave this accusation enough credence to interrogate Piazza under torture, a decision which obviously was tantamount to the execution itself. He broke he sealed his own fate when he broke and confessed, and sealed same for a misfortunate barber named Giangiacomo Mora whom Piazza was made to accuse.

Milan was proud enough of this obvious injustice to stand up an colonna d’infamia (“column of infamy”) denouncing both “poisoners” until a storm finally knocked the lying marble down in 1788. It read,

Here, where this plot of ground extends, formerly stood the shop of the barber Giangiacomo Mora, who had conspired with Guglielmo Piazza, Commissary of the Public Health, and with others, while a frightful plague exercised its ravages, by means of deadly ointments spread on all sides, to hurl many citizens to a cruel death. For this, the Senate, having declared them both to be enemies of their country, decreed that, placed on an elevated car, their flesh should be torn with red-hot pincers, their right hands be cut off, and their bones be broken; that they should be extended on the wheel, and at the end of six hours be put to death, and burnt. Then, and that there might remain no trace of these guilty men, their possessions should be sold at public sale, their ashes thrown into the river, and to perpetuate the memory of their deed the Senate wills that the house in which the crime was projected shall be razed to the ground, shall never be rebuilt, and that in its place a column shall be erected which shall be called Infamous. Keep afar off, then, afar off, good citizens, lest this accursed ground should pollute you with its infamy.

August, 1630.

Prior to the column’s overturning, the Milanese Enlightenment intellectual Pietro Verri wrote a meditation upon it titled Sulla tortura e singolarmente sugli effetti che produsse all’occasione delle unzioni malefiche, alle quale si attribui la pestilenza che devasto Milano l’anno 1630. Italian speakers can enjoy it here.

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Entry Filed under: 17th Century,Broken on the Wheel,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Gruesome Methods,History,Innocent Bystanders,Italy,Milan,Murder,Public Executions,Terrorists,Torture,Wrongful Executions

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1849: Maximilian Dortu, republican martyr

Add comment July 31st, 2019 Headsman

Maximilian Dortu was shot on this date in 1849 for his part in that era’s failed revolutions, but posterity will always remember his dunk on the future German emperor Kaiser Wilhelm.

A plaque commemorating Herr Dortu in Potsdam. (cc) image from Doris Antony.

A kid fresh out of university when the intoxicating fires of revolution broke out in Europe in 1848, Dortu (the cursory English Wikipedia entry | the detailed German upon hearing that Wilhelm — Prince of Prussia at the time — had deployed artillery in the suppressions roasted him publicly as Kartätschenprinz — the Prince of Grapeshot. It’s a name the Prussian autocrat has never fully lived down.

That got him detained for several months but nothing daunted he emerged after release late in 1848 as a rabble-rousing orator in Potsdam, then took part in the May-July 1849 Palatine uprising — a secondary revolt that occurred after Prince Grapeshot annulled the constitution that the preceding months had nominally secured.

“An idealistic soul, fierce in battle, stormy and ardent on the rostrum, bursting with patriotic fervor at every moment,” a compatriot judged him.

All Dortu’s passion was no match for the grapeshot; the militia that he led dissolved as 19,000 crack Prussian soldiers under General Moritz von Hirschfeld poured in to smash the rebellion.

Dortu was captured in Freiburg and condemned as a rebel, pridefully refusing to petition for mercy. “Who has the courage to confess a conviction and fight for it, must also have the courage to die for it,” he wrote to his parents.

This romantic hero, “the first martyr of the Prussian court martial,” (there were two more shot in August) became for many years a democratic icon, of sufficient weight that Wilhelm, as King of Prussia in the 1860s, forbade Potsdam from accepting a memorial donative from Dortu’s widow. But the disdain of the Hohenzollern never sufficed to snuff out his memory; since 2004, he’s been honored annually by a commemorative ceremony at his tomb on the anniversary of his death.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Germany,History,Martyrs,Occupation and Colonialism,Power,Revolutionaries,Shot

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1948: Ruth Closius-Neudeck

Add comment July 29th, 2019 Headsman

A notoriously brutal guard at the Ravensbrück women’s concentration camp named Ruth Closius-Neudeck was hanged on this date in 1948.

With impeccable timing she exited a life of proletarian obscurity by applying for a gig as a camp warden in July 1944, right when the Third Reich’s prospects for surviving the war went terminal.

That left her scant few months to stack up fodder for the eventual war crimes tribunals but Neudeck had a knack for making hay in the twilight.

Almost immediately earning promotion to barracks overseer, she earned a reputation as one of the cruelest guards at the camp that once cultivated Irma Grese. (They didn’t overlap.) One prisoner would later describe seeing her “cut the throat of an inmate with the sharp edge of her shovel.”

She was subsequently detailed to the nearby Uckermark satellite camp, smaller and more lethal — as it was converted for the Third Reich’s final weeks into a killing center for inmates whose bodies had been broken at slave labor in Ravensbrück or elsewhere. She acknowledged sending 3,000 women to the gas chambers as Uckermark Aufseherin.

She was one of five camp guards charged in the Uckermark trial (also known as the Third Ravensbrück trial) in 1948, and the only one of those five executed.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Germany,Hanged,History,War Crimes,Women

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1819: Antonia Santos, Bolivarian revolutionary

Add comment July 28th, 2019 Headsman

Today is the bicentennial of the July 28, 1819 execution by firing squad of Bolivarian independence heroine Maria Antonia Santos Plata.

Monument to Antonia Santos in Socorro, Colombia.

This New Grenada peasant (English Wikipedia entry | the more extensive Spanish) led Bolivar-aligned guerrillas resisting the Spanish reconquest in her home Province of Socorro.

She was captured during the last months of Spanish hegemony, but even as she awaited execution of her sentence her comrades in arms continuing in the field played a part in the crucial Bolivarian victory at the Battle of Pantano de Vargas.

She was shot at 10:30 in the morning on the main square of Socorro, along with Pascual Becerra and Isidro Bravo.

A battalion of the Colombian army’s Seventh Brigade is named for Antonia Santos.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Colombia,Death Penalty,Execution,Famous,Guerrillas,History,Martyrs,Occupation and Colonialism,Power,Public Executions,Revolutionaries,Shot,Soldiers,Treason,Wartime Executions,Women

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2019: Ali Hakim al-Arab and Ahmad al-Mullali, Bahrain opposition

Add comment July 27th, 2019 Headsman

The Gulf state Bahrain shot three men this morning, including two young Shia activists whose condemnation became a worldwide cause celebre. (The third man was an unnamed individual convicted of killing an imam.)


Left: Ali Hakim al-Arab, right: Ahmad al-Mullali

The majority-Shia island, home to American and British military bases, has been ruled by the Sunni House of Khalifa since 1783. In those two-plus centuries, this dynasty has achieved Croesus-like wealth for itself and disproportionately directed the country’s vast oil revenues to a class of predominantly Sunni elites.

This simmering grievance exploded during the Arab Spring era in the form of a 2011 uprising; though these protests were violently squelched by troops requisitioned from Bahrain’s allied Gulf petrokingdoms Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, protests and opposition have continued ever since.

Many of the political prisoners arrested in this crackdown or subsequently were housed in Jau (or Jaw) Prison, notorious for overcrowding and torture. This prison in turn has become the target of numerous actual and attempted jailbreaks in the 2010s, with outside supporters trying to help imprisoned Shia dissidents escape.

The most daring and deadly of these was the January 1, 2017 raid by armed regime opponents that (temporarily) freed ten prisoners. The gunmen, who reportedly prepped for the operation by scouting the prison and environs with drones, slew a police officer during the escape.

Throughout the 2010s Bahrain has met every exertion of its opposition by heightened repression. Just weeks after this jailbreak, it extended military tribunals to civilian cases, a chilling threat to every dissident. And it made a massive example of the people who were allegedly involved in the Jau Prison outrage, both the escapees and the outside activists — all bracketed together under the expansive rubric of “terrorism”. (Bahrain judges have ruled that mere “moral pressure” can supply the violence necessary to qualify an act as terrorism.)

The result was a mass trial of 60 alleged jailbreak participants. There were two acquittals and 56 sub-capital sentences; Ali Hakim al-Arab and Ahmad al-Mullali earned the headlines with death sentences for killing an off-duty officer (not the one shot during the jailbreak). Most of those convicted also had their citizenship stripped into the bargain.

Both men submitted “confessions” under heavy torture, including beatings, electric shocks, having nails ripped out, and possibly even moral persuasion.

Human rights organizations around the world raised alarms yesterday with the ominous news that the men’s families had been summoned to visit their doomed relations at Jau Prison; in London, an activist scaled the Bahrain embassy to unveil a banner demanding clemency.

“One of Bahrain’s darkest days,” said Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy director Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei in a statement. “It appears that the Bahraini government planned this meticulously, timing the executions to coincide with US, EU and UK legislative recesses in order to avoid international scrutiny. These crimes only happened because of the unconditional support lent to dictator Hamad by Washington and London.”

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Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Activists,Bahrain,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,History,Murder,Ripped from the Headlines,Shot,Terrorists,Torture

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1833: Anastasio Aquino, Nonualco rebel

Add comment July 24th, 2019 Headsman

On this date in 1833, the Federal Republic of Central America executed Salvadoran indigenous rebel Anastasio Aquino.

Monument to Anastasio Aquino in Santiago Nonualco, the place where both man and rising originated (it’s sometimes called the Nonualco Rebellion). (cc) image from AlfredoMercurio-503.

This interesting post-Spanish polity lasted until the Central American federation splintered in 1841 into the modern-day independent states of Nicaragua, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Costa Rica, and a bit of Mexico.

Not for the first time, New World indigenes found the breakaway settler state a less congenial authority than the former colonial overlord — in this case cumbering them with new taxes, with laws facilitating the private takeover of their “uncultivated” lands. and with conscriptions onto exploitive hacienda estates.*

This soon catalyzed a rebellion; its leader, our day’s principal “Aquino the Indian”, was a hacienda laborer aggrieved by the unjust arrest of his brother and for the first months of 1833 he set the state of El Salvador on the brink of revolution, winning several battles as the General Commandant of the Liberation Army and issuing edicts in his own name.

His rebel army was defeated at the end of February and its fugitive general finally captured weeks later — destined for the scaffold and for the literary tribute of subsequent Salvadoran writers who have often styled him a national hero.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Arts and Literature,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,El Salvador,Execution,Famous,History,Power,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Revolutionaries,Shot,Soldiers

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1971: Four for Sudan’s Siesta Coup

Add comment July 23rd, 2019 Headsman

On this date in 1971, four leftist officers who had briefly overthrown the government of Sudan were shot — just one day after their coup collapsed.

This was but a brief and early interruption in what proved to be the 16-year (1969-1985) reign of Col. Gaafar Nimeiry, who himself had taken power at gunpoint two years earlier.

Although Nimeiry initially had the support of Sudan’s then-robust Communist Party, the colonel soon clamped down on the staunchest and most pro-Moscow Communists, eventually inviting the attempted coup.

The “Siesta Coup” was mounted on the scorching afternoon of July 19 while city traffic was greatly thinned by the absence of everyone who could arrange to duck into a shady refuge instead, and it worked at first: Communist officers bloodlessly seized control of the government and of Nimeiry’s own person. But very few Sudanese people — and almost no governments in the region — had enthusiasm for the usurpers; Muammar Qaddafi even had Libyan fighter jets intercept and force down a Khartoum-bound British Airways flight carrying two coup-friendly politicians from London, so that he could arrest them on the tarmac in Benghazi.*

On July 22 anti-Communist soldiers deposed the coup government and restored Nimeiry. Within hours, four principal actors in the Siesta Coup were being dispatched to their eternal rest; the others were Maj. Hashem al?Atta, commander in chief of the armed forces for the coup government; Col. Abdel Moneim Ahmed; Lt. Col. Osman Hussein; and Capt. Muaweya Abdel Hal.


The doomed Hashem al Atta passes his waning hours enduring a harangue from Khalid Hassan Abbas.

* Those two men, Farouk Osman Hamadallah and Babakr al-Nur Osman, were returned to Khartoum as soon as Nimeiry was back in the saddle, and were also executed within days.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Power,Shot,Soldiers,Sudan,Treason

1775: Not Richard Carpenter, strong swimmer

Add comment July 21st, 2019 Headsman

20th [July 1775]. Mr. Carpenter was taken by the night Patrole — upon examination he had swum over to Dorchester and back again, was tried here that day and sentence passed on him to be executed the next day, — his coffin bro’t into the Goal-yard, his halter [noose] brought and he dressed as criminals are before execution. Sentence was respited and a few days after was pardoned.

-from the diary of Boston selectman Timothy Newell

On or around this date in 1775, an immigrant wig-maker was faux-executed by the British garrisoned in a besieged Boston.

Richard Carpenter was not a figure of decisive importance to the onrushing American Revolution but the excellent and venerable blog Boston 1775 by J.L. Bell has made a wonderful little microhistory of the man by cobbling together his appearances across different sources from his first 1769 business advert until his 1781 death in a British prison hulk.

Carpenter swam across Boston harbor to escape to patriot lines, then swam back into Boston; the Brits who captured him naturally took him for an enemy agent who could have been hanged … but from multiple reports (sometimes with muddled dates) this fate was “merely” visibly prepared for him only to be abated shortly before execution. In Bell’s speculation, hostilities were still not yet fully matured and “neither side had the stomach for such fatal measures. The executions of Thomas Hickey and Nathan Hale were still several months away.”

For an extraordinary snapshot of this revolutionary everyman, click through the full series:

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Entry Filed under: 18th Century,England,Espionage,Hanged,History,Massachusetts,Mock Executions,Not Executed,Occupation and Colonialism,Revolutionaries,Separatists,Spies,USA,Wartime Executions

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1597: Anneke van den Hove, buried alive

Add comment July 19th, 2019 Thieleman Janszoon van Braght

(Thanks to 17th century Dutch Anabaptist Thieleman Janszoon van Braght for the guest post. It was originally an entry in his Anabaptist martyrology Martyrs Mirror, but although this doctrine did not emerge until the 1520s, van Braght was keen to deploy his hagiographies to connect his movement to a longer tradition of pre-Lutheran dissidents, and thus claims post facto for proto-anabaptism such figures as Waldensians, Albigensians, and Gerard Segarelli. -ed.)

At Brussels, under the reign of the archduke Albert, there was apprehended for her faith and following Christ, a young maiden named Anneken van den Hove (being the servant maid of Nicolaes Rampaert’s sister), having been betrayed, as it was said, by the pastor of the Savel church at Brussels.

This Anneken was imprisoned two years and seven months, in which time she suffered much temptation, from priests, monks, Jesuits and others, who thereby sought to make her apostatize from the faith she had accepted; but however great pains they took with her, in the way of examining, tormenting, fair promises, threats, long imprisonment, and otherwise, she nevertheless constantly remained steadfast in the faith in her Lord and Bridegroom, so that finally, on the nin[eteen]th of July, 1597,* certain Jesuits came and asked her whether she would suffer herself to be converted, for in that case she should be released and set at liberty. Thereupon she replied, “No.” They then offered to give her six months more time for consideration; but she desired neither day nor time, but said that they might do what seemed good to them, for she longed to get to the place where she might offer up unto the Lord a sacrifice acceptable unto Him. This answer having been conveyed to the judges, information was brought her about two hours afterwards, that if she wanted to die, prepare herself, unless she wished to turn.

Hence the justice of the court, and also a few Jesuits, went out with her about eight o’clock, half a mile without the city of Brussels, where a pit or grave was made, while in the meantime she fearlessly undressed herself, and was thus put alive into the pit, and the lower limbs having first been covered with earth, the Jesuits who were present asked her whether she would not yet turn and recant? She said, “No;” but that she was glad that the time of her departure was so near fulfilled. When the Jesuits then laid before her, that she had to expect not only this burying alive of the body into the earth, but also the eternal pain of the fire in her soul, in hell. She answered that she had peace in her conscience, being well assured that she died saved, and had to expect the eternal, imperishable life, full of joy and gladness in heaven, with God and all His saints.

In the meantime they continued to throw earth and (as has been stated to us) thick sods of heath ground upon her body, up to her throat; but notwithstanding all their asking, threatening, or promising to release her and take her out of the pit, if she would recant, it was all in vain, and she would not hearken to it.

Hence they at last threw much additional earth and sods upon her face and whole body, and stamped with their feet upon it, in order that she should die the sooner.

This was the end of this pious heroine of Jesus Christ, who gave her body to the earth, that her soul might obtain heaven; thus she fought a good fight, finished her course, kept the faith, and valiantly confirmed the truth unto death.

Since she then so loved her dear leader, Christ Jesus, that she followed Him not only to the marriage at Cana, but also, so to speak, even to the gallows-hill, there cannot be withheld from her the honor and name of a faithful martyress, who suffered all this for His name’s sake.

Hence she will also afterwards, when going forth as a wise virgin, yea, as a dear friend of the Lord, to meet her heavenly Bridegroom, be joyfully welcomed and received in the heavenly halls of immortal glory, together with all steadfast servants of God.

O God, be merciful also unto us that are still living, that continuing faithful unto the end, we may with her, and all the saints receive Thy blessed inheritance.

* July 9th by the old Julian calendar preferred by Protestants; July 19th by the updated Gregorian calendar preferred by Catholics.

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Entry Filed under: 16th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,God,Guest Writers,Heresy,History,Immured,Martyrs,Other Voices,Public Executions,Women

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1743: The Black Watch mutineers

Add comment July 18th, 2019 Headsman

On this date in 1743, three leaders of the Scottish “Black Watch” were shot in the Tower of London for mutiny.

The recruits of the 43rd Highland Regiment of Foot* had been assured that their service would remain in-country only, and given that there was continental war raging at the time this was valuable assurance indeed — or would have been, if not for the propensity of military recruiters to lie wantonly.

The Black Watch were inveigled to London on the premise that they were to be reviewed by His Majesty King George II.

Once there, they caught wind of an actual or rumored plan to ship them on to the continent … or worse, to swelter in the West Indies. About a hundred of their number upped sticks and set off back for native hearth and heather. Alas for them, they were intercepted by General George Wade** and returned to London for court-martial as mutineers. Save for three perceived ringleaders, Corporals Malcolm McPherson and Samuel McPherson, and private Farqhuar Shaw, who were shot in the Tower, the rest had sentences commuted … to punitive overseas deployments from Gibraltar to the aforementioned dreaded West Indies.

As for the remaining, un-deserted corps of the regiment? It got shipped off to Flanders, just as it feared.

* Later renumbered as the 42nd Regiment — hence this musical tribute to the “Forty Twa'”:

** Wade’s renown in defeating the imminent Jacobite rebellion of 1745 would earn him tribute in an impolitic stanza of “God Save the King” that is rarely performed.

Lord, grant that Marshal Wade
May, by thy mighty aid,
Victory bring.
May he sedition hush
And, like a torrent, rush
Rebellious Scots to crush.
God save the King.

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Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,England,Execution,History,Military Crimes,Mutiny,Scotland,Shot,Soldiers,Wartime Executions

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