Posts filed under 'History'

1956: Sylvester Murau, via filial impiety

Add comment May 16th, 2020 Headsman

East Germany beheaded Sylvester Murau by fallbeil on this date in 1956.

A blue-collar laborer who served a jail sentence for poaching under the Third Reich, he’d joined GDR’s feared security service, the Stasi — until he was dismissed when some fascist dalliances during the war years came to light.

He then transitioned from Stasi agent Sylvester Murau to defector Sylvester Murau, fleeing to West Berlin and settled down in West Germany for life as a communist apostate.

That was in 1954. Later that same year, his daughter Brigitte “Gitta” Cullmann, popped in for a visit — transit between East and West Germany was not yet impeded by any wall back then — and fell to drinking with him in Heubach with some pals.

Well, it turns out that Brigitte was a Tier 1 Operative of a Stasi agent herself, albeit a real bum as a child: her presence induced dad to let his guard down with her acquaintances, and once ol’ Sly was sufficiently sauced, the visitors tossed him into a car and bundled him back over the border. It’s among hundreds of cases where Communist bloc defectors were forcibly repatriated eastward by Stasi kidnappers, there to meet all manner of mistreatment — but Murau’s situation was surely exceptional in depending on such obligingly disloyal kin for its very implementation.

Ruthless Gitta later married the Stasi colonel who planned the body-snatch.

On this day..

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

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1920: Four denunciators of Laon

Add comment May 15th, 2020 Alphonse Lemonon

(Thanks to Alphonse Lemonon for the guest post, which originally appeared under the title “Civilization’s Thin Veneer: War Shows the Seamy Side of Human Nature” in The Overland Monthly (July 1920). As noted in the foreword paragraph, it’s substantially an English translation of reporting from May 16, 1920 edition of Le Petit Journal. These were the unlucky half of eight people convicted in a trial touching 44 Frenchmen and -women from the northern regions occupied by Germany at some point during the late war, who were accused of collaborating with those Germans and denouncing their patriotic countrymen. There’s much more about this case (in French) including more pictures (in grainy black and white) in this police magazine. -ed.)

[Almost at the moment when Joan of Arc was being canonized with all the clerical ceremonies at Rome [this occurred on May 16, 1920 -ed.], four political prisoners — one a woman — were tied to stakes and shot according to military and civic ceremony near Paris. The tragic and instructive narrative is here told in a translation from the most popular Paris Newspaper — Le Petit Journal, May 16, 1920.]

FOUR of the condemned informers of Laon, of which affair one has not forgotten the dolorous echo, Georges Toque, Moise Lemoine, Leander Herbert and the woman Alice Aubert were shot yesterday morning, at Vincennes, and if it were an affecting execution, it assuredly was to them. Two of them fell while swearing to their innocence and crying “Viva la France!”

The Last Awakening.

All four were awakened at 4 a.m. Some instants before the officers charged with the transfer of the condemned to execution had presented themselves at several prisons; some at the prison de la Sante where Toque and Lemoine were confined, others at Cherchi-Midi where Herbert was detained, and a third group at the prison de Saint-Lazare, where one other, Alice Aubert, condemned of the same affair, was held. She occupied a cell with Helen Favre, who had been reprieved.

The lawyers of the four condemned were on hand to assist their clients until the last moment. Maitres Delmont and Campinchi arrives at the prison La Sante about the same time as lieutenant-colonel Beyle, commissioner of the government. All were shown together to the cells and Toque was called. He was seated and dressing himself. The usual words on such occasions having been pronounced by the commissioner of the government, the condemned man moved towards the foot of his bed and finished his dressing — never ceasing meantime to protest his innocence.

Maitre Delmont handed the prisoner his shoes which he took with a gesture of indifference and while putting them on remarked: “I go to make the journey to eternity and have no need.” Having completed his dressing he wrote two letters, which he intrusted to Maitre Delmont for delivery. One he addressed to his wife, the other to the minister of Justice. It follows:

Monsieur le Ministre de la Justice.

At the moment of dying, I affirm solemnly my innocence and of you demand vengeance.

I swear that i have never belonged to the spy service of Germany. I swear to have never rendered them any service, nor to have informed on anybody. I swear that Waegele has odiously lied.

Georges Toque.

At that moment the prisoner Lemoine who had been awakened about the same time as Toque passed in the corridor of the prison, and seeing his associate, called out to him:

“Let us go Toque, have courage.”

After the formal entry on the prison register, the two condemned men appeared in the court of the prison, their heads bare but their demeanor calm.

They were placed in the same automobile, seated opposite each other, the prison abbe and a gendarme accompanying them. The journey to the execution grounds began for them. Meantime painful scenes were being enacted at the prisons containing the two other doomed persons, Leandre Herbert the soldier and Alice Aubert. The soldier appeared demented. His lawyer could not calm him and called the prisoner’s attention to the automobile in company with two religienotice of the civilian doctor, Socquet, demanding a reprieve.

The doctor refused declaring that the wards Vincennes. prisoner enjoyed all his faculties.

“You are going to shoot an insane man. I leave the responsibility with you” concluded the lawyer.

Herbert was placed in a voiture and arrived at the scene of execution at Vincennes some minutes after Toque and Lemoine.

The three condemned men were subjected to an atrocious delay of three-quarters of an hour till the third voiture containing Alice Aubert appeared.

To allay the mental sufferings of the delay, when minutes seemed hours, it was proposed to the prisoners to alight from the voitures and walk in the court of the donjon at Vincennes, but Lemoine refused, as being too cold.

At Saint-Lazare.

While the three condemned men awaited death at Vincennes, a touching scene took place at the prison Saint-Lazare, where the condemned woman Aubert shared a cell with Helene Favre, condemned at the same time but commuted. The Favre woman thought she was the one about to be taken to execution and fell in a terrible nervous crisis.

On the contrary Alice Aubert had good control of herself, listened to the official orders without evincing any emotion; but her eyes filled and she cried silently some minutes. Then she began to dress herself, a figure sad and resigned. She said to her lawyer who tried to comfort her:

“If I am sad — if I cry — it is not for me, it is for my sister, it is for my child. It is also for the others condemned.”

She put on her yellow silk hose and patent-leather shoes which contrasted with her simple petticoat and mantle, and all the time she repeated: “Providing that I can go to heaven”; “Providing that I can go to heaven”; “Providing that I can go to heaven.” These words she used till she alighted at the execution ground at Vincennes.

Before quitting the prison Saint-Lazare the condemned woman wished to hear mass, and it was not until she had received communion that she mounted the automobile in company with two religieuses who assisted her until the last moments. The automobile then sped towards Vincennes.

At La Caponniere.

At five hours and a half (5:30 a.m.) an order rang out upon the ground of la Caponniere: “Garde a vous!” (Attention). The voitures containing the condemned advanced upon the road. The soldiers of the 13th artillery, the 23rd dragoons, and the 26th chasseurs, who formed the square, presented arms; the trumpets sounded “Aux champs!” the firing squads rectified their position before the four stakes placed in line at a distance of ten metres from one another.

Slowly the autos came to a a [sic] stop, and from the one at the head descended Toque and Lemoine, absolutely livid but calm.

The abbe Geispitz embraced the two condemned men and they in turn embraced their lawyers, and then Toque addressed his lawyer:

You have seen my memoranda and you know that I am innocent. Preserve well all the pieces show that I am not culpable. After my death — long time after — when calm will be returned to the consciences, make clear my innocence. Rehabillitate my memory, I pray you.

He directed again the attention of his lawyer to certain leaves of his memoranda that were not in their order, nor did he forget any detail.

And that man who came to die insisted again that in the future he be not misrepresented, that he be not disparagingly spoken of as “Toque the traitor”.

The painful and prolonged scene wore out the patience of Lemoine who tugged impatiently on the lapel of his companion’s overcoat and said “Let us go,” and took a step forward. The two condemned men escorted by the gendarmes then began to direct their steps towards the stakes where they were to stand before the firing squads, but were halted as the other two condemned prisoners, had not yet descended from their automobiles.

Turning about, Toque and Lemoine saw Herbert the soldier wearing his blue uniform, his cap turned the wrong way and advancing with long strides. He continued to speak incoherently: “Me also, I wish to say something — say something”. He did not cease to repeat these words and addressing the gendarmes he said: “Do not hold me — do not hold me — You will see — you will see — Ah! ah!”

Behind him came Alice Aubert, without coiffure like Toque and Lemoine and like those marching with firm step.

One moment where she entered the square, by one gesture instinctive of feminine coquetrie, she drew over her light colored dress her manteau of sombre hue.

Toque and Lemoine, who were advancing towards the stakes, turned again to speak the last word to their lawyers, the hands — a dernier au revoir — accompanied by a sign of the hands. And then the four condemned marched in Indian file traversing the square and directing their steps to the stakes at which the gendarmes tied them.

The Execution.

Toque was at the extreme right. Lemoine was at the second stake. Herbert was attached to the third. The fourth stake on the left propped Alice Aubert.

Lemoine and Toque refused the bandage intended to mask the view of the firing squad. Herbert remained mute and let things proceed.

The clerk of the Council of War at this moment appeared between the two firing squads in the centre and read the sentence of death.

All the official details in full had been finished and in the silence impressive the clear and strong voice of Toque elevated itself once more: “I swear that I am innocent; vive la France!”

Also Lemoine, elevating his right hand took the same oath and also cried: “Vive la France!”

As for Herbert, he articulated again the same phrase: “Me also I wish to say something.”

With hand raised Toque again avowed his innocence, until the soldiers of the front rank knelt to fire. All put their pieces to the shoulder. Again Toque cried: “Vive la France!” The officer lowered his sword and the fusil[l]ade crackled. But a frightful rattle, like an appeal for help escaped from the gorge of Toque. He was not dead. The guns had trembled in the hands of the firers.

Maitre Delmont, the lawyer of Toque, cried to an under-officer: “Dispatch him, dispatch him”! The soldier approached the palpitating body, from which escaped continually the heart-rending cries and discharged his revolver twice in the head of the condemned. The rattle ceased but the man still stirred and a third ball found the brain.

Alice Aubert, with her hands clasped upon her breast, and holding in her fingers a crucifix rested upright against the stake. She too received in her turn the coup de grace. Her head fell. Then she became completely erect and sank for the last time to move no more.

The two others also received their coup de grace; but it was unnecessary for Lemoine who had his skull stove in. It was not so with Herbert whose pulse continued to beat and his lips to move at the moment when a doctor examined him.

The civilian doctor Socquet, declared that he was dead, and the body of which one of the legs had been broken by a bullet was placed in a coffin.

After examining the two other cadavers, the doctor Socquet came to certify the death of Alice Aubert. He wished to examine the heart, but the chemise of the woman obstructed. A soldier, by the aid of a knife, cut the shoulder-strap and the doctor plunged his hand which trembled in the gorge of the woman streaming with blood. He drew forth a photograph equally blood-stained — the picture of the child of Alice Aubert. She had placed the photograph on her heart before going to die. It was piteously replaced upon the breast of the dead.

A sonnerie guerriere, resounded then, and to those notes of the trumpets the troops defiled.

All the assistants were paler than the dead.

Some minutes after two wagons, surrounded by dragoons, quitted the scene of execution and proceeded to the cemetery of Vincennes four kilometers distant. In the wagons were four wooden coffins. They contained the stripped bodies of the four executed prisoners.

The bodies not having been reclaimed they have been, after a mock burial, delivered to the faculty of medicine.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Espionage,Execution,France,Guest Writers,History,Other Voices,Public Executions,Shot,Treason,Women

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1944: Oskar Kusch, Wehrkraftzersetzung U-boat commander

Add comment May 12th, 2020 Headsman

No assignment in the Third Reich’s war machine, nay not even the fearful eastern front, was as dangerous as service in the Kriegsmarine’s U-boat fleet.

Terrors of English shipping in the early war years, these submersible predators became prey once overwhelming U.S. materiel poured into the theater, and Allied intelligence started cracking German signals. By war’s end, fully three-quarters of the wartime U-boat personnel had sunk into watery graves.

And on top of all the intrinsic perils of fighting a losing war from the inside of a submerged tin of beans, you’d better do it with enthusiasm or you’ve got the prospect of going up against the wall like Oskar Kusch did on May 12, 1944.

A submariner since 1937, Kusch come 1943 stood in command of U-154.

He fulfilled his office creditably — that’s what the official history has come to reflect via a postwar rehabilitation — but was ratted out for Wehrkraftzersetzung, a lethal polysyllable meaning “subversion of the war effort”. This capital crime classed as sedition a wide range of utterances that showed their speaker anything other than relentlessly positive about the war effort: spreading skepticism in official propaganda, showing distaste for Naziism, and most certainly entertaining doubt as to the Reich’s manifestly fading prospects for victory.

In practice, of course, not everybody who cast a gimlet eye on Berlin’s war pronouncements was so handled, but it’s the sort of law to keep everyone nervous. And if, say, one has torpedoed the promotion prospects of one’s second-in-command with a lukewarm performance evaluation, then it’s the sort of thing that First Watch Officer Ulrich Abel can wield for revenge.

Soon enough, Kusch was being informed upon for candidly assessing the Germans’ dire strategic prospects and for seditiously removing the mandatory picture of Hitler to a place less likely to oblige a lot of gratuitous obeisance. He was moreover found to have tuned into foreign radio stations, which was also a crime. The brass decided to make an example of him, overriding an initial prison sentence so that they could stand him in front of a firing squad near the Baltic Sea juncture of the Kiel Canal.


Marker honoring Oskar Kusch, on the present-day street Oskar-Kusch-Straße, near the place Kusch was executed.

For all the mean absurdity of his death, Kusch’s shit luck lay not in being denounced to a kangaroo court but in the mere fact of his enrollment in the Kriegsmarine’s U-boat service. After all, seven weeks after his own execution, his former vessel was sunk off Madeira with all hands lost. And for that matter Kusch’s enemy, Ulrich Abel, predeceased his own victim, having attained through his complaints command of a vessel of his own, his great desideratum which Executed Today hopes that he enjoyed with urgency — for Abel and his own ship were likewise sent to the bottom in April 1944.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Germany,History,Power,Shot,Soldiers,Wartime Executions

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1682: Four at a Lisbon auto de fe

Add comment May 10th, 2020 Michael Geddes

(Thanks to Scottish Church of England clergyman Michael Geddes for the guest post. Geddes had occasion to witness the May 10, 1682 auto de fe in Lisbon on account of serving as the chaplain to the factory there, and left this account of it in volume I of his 1709 page-turner, Miscellaneous Tracts. Geddes’s detailed account of the Inquisition’s operation in chapter V forms the bulk of our text here, and it’s no surprise from what he writes that the Inquisition’s protests forced him out of Portugal a few years afterward. In Chapter VI, he provides brief vignettes enumerating the offenses of the dozens of subjects of our May 10 auto, from which we have highlighted only the executions — all four of them “New Christians” condemned for continuing to practice Judaism. -ed.)

A View of the Court of Inquisition in Portugal:

With a List of the Prisoners that came forth in an Act of the Faith celebrated at Lisbon, in the Year 1682.

The Court of Inquisition, which in Portugal is commonly called, The Holy Office, and The Holy House, consists of an Inquisitor General, the Supreme Council, Inquisitors, Assessors, Qualificators, a Secretary, an Advocate Fiscal, a Treasurer, Familiars, and Goalers.

The Inquisitor General, who is commonly called the Inquisidor Mor, is named by the King, but confirmed and authorized by the Pope, to act as his Delegate. He lives constantly at Lisbon, in an House in the Inquisition, which belongs to his Office. It is a Place of so great Dignity and Profit, that the Cardinal Infante Don Henry, and Albert Cardinal, Archduke of Austria, were in it, and Don Verissimo Alencastro left the Primacy of Braga for it.

The Counsellors of the Supreme Court are al named by the Inquisitor Major, but must before they act have the King’s approbation. The Council sits constantly twice at Lisbon.

The Inquisitors, who are commonly Secular Priests, do belong either to the Supreme Court which is fixed at Lisbon, or to the Inquisitions of Conimbra, Ebora, or Goa in the East Indies, which Courts have all the same inferiour Officers, and Stiles, and have all their Acts of the Faith.

The Assessors are Divines, Civilians, and Canonists, which are consulted by the Inquisitors in all difficult Cases.

The Qualificators are employed in correcting and amending of Books, and are commonly Dominican Fryars.

It [is] to be hoped, the Heresy of Doctrines is better understood by these Qualificators, than the Etymology of the word Heretick was by the Writer of their Repertorium, printed at Venice in the Year 1588, who to shew his Critical Learnings, faith, the word Hereticus, according to some, is compounded of Erro, and Recto; because an Heretick errs from what is right. According to others it is derived from Eristor, which signifies to divide; and according to some it comes from Adhereo, because it is one’s adhering obstinately to an Error, that makes him an Heretick. And with the same stocks of Learning it was, that another Inquisitor proved from St. Paul’s Words, Hereticum devita, that Christians were commanded to deprive Hereticks of their Lives.

The Secretary writes down whatever is said judicially in the Inquisition.

The Advocate Fiscal prosecutes the Prisoner with his utmost skill and diligence to convict him of Heresy.

The Treasurer has the Estate and all the Goods of the Prisoner put into his hands, when the Prisoner is apprehended.

The Familiars are the Bayliffs of the Inquisition; which tho it is a vile Office in all other Criminal Courts, is esteemed so honourable in this of the Inquisition, that there is not a Nobleman in the Kingdom that is not in it, and such are commonly employ’d by the Inquisitors to apprehend People; Neither is it any wonder, that Persons of the highest Quality do desire to be thus employ’d, since the same plenary Indulgence is by the Pope granted to every single Exercise of this Office, as was granted by the Lateran Council to those that succoured the Holy Land.

The Goalers are directed by the Inquisitors, how to dispose of, and how to treat their Prisoners, and are straitly charged not to give, nor to suffer them to have any manner of Intelligence.

The Inquisitors, and all their Officers do take an Oath, not to discover any thing that is said or done within the Walls of the Inquisition to any Person whatsoever, neither is there any thing more severely punished by this Court, than the Violation of that Oath.

And whereas the Pope’s having thus appointed Inquisitors to be the Judges of Heresie, was a great Incroachment on the Episcopal Jurisdiction, which the Papal eyes since it pretended to be Monarchical, has sought by a thousand ways to lessen; the Popes, to make this Encroachment go down the easier, allowed two Privileges to the Bishops; the one was, that the Inquisitors should not have Authority to Imprison a Bishop: And the other was, that before they condemned any Person as a Heretick, they should send to the Bishop of the Place, to concur with them in that Sentence; which two Constitutions, though they are still in force, are of little benefit to the Bishops; who tho they may not be imprisoned upon suspicion of Heresy by the Inquisitors, may be confined to their Houses by them, until they have inform’d the Pope, as the Archbishop of Toledo was in the Reign of Philip II. And if the Bishop, when he is acquainted with the Process of the Prisoner, should refuse to agree to his being condemned, the Inquisitors may pass Sentence notwithstanding; for in this, as in all other Cases, the Divine Authority of Bishops, when it happens to clash as they term it, with the Papal, must still give way to it.

The Court of Inquisition proceeds summarily, and most commonly upon a Denuntiation, as they term it, which does not, like an Accusation, disable the Person that makes it to be a Witness. The Inquisition forceth all to inform that can do it, by Edicts in the Form following.

To all, and singular Christians, as well Ecclesiasticks as Laicks of both Sexes, of whatsoever Degree, Order, Condition, Preeminence, Dignity, or Authority, the highest not excerpted. Know ye, That we by the Series and Tenor of these Presents, and by our Authority, and by that of the Office we execute here, do Charge and Command, That within twelve Days after the Publication hereof, (the first four of which are to be as the first, and the next four as the second and the last four as a peremptory and third Canonical Admonition) all that do know or suspect any of Heresy, do come and inform against them, upon Pain of the greater Excommunication latae Sententiae, which shall be ipso facto incurred, and from which they cannot be absolved by any, but by our Lord the Pope, or by us. And we do further Certify, That whosoever, despising the Penalty of this Excommunication, shall forbear to inform us, shall moreover be proceeded against as a Favourer of Hereticks.

If the Informer, when he comes in, names any Witnesses besides himself, they are sent for privately, and before they are examined, do take an Oath, not to discover to any Person their having been with the Inquisitors, nor to speak of any thing they said, saw, or heard within that Court.

All People, tho never so infamous, and tho they stand convicted of Perjury, are in favour of the Faith, and in detestation of Hereticks, admitted by the Inquisition to be Witnesses, Mortal Enemies only excepted.

This Exception is of little Benefit to the Prisoner, by reason of his not knowing who they are that have informed and witnessed against him.

The Depositions of the Informer, and Witnesses, if there be any, being thus privately taken, a Familiar is sent for, and being come, he has the following Order put into his Hand.

By the Command of the Reverend Father N. an Inquisitor of Heretical Pravity, let N. be apprehended and committed to the Prisons of this Holy Office, and not be released out of them but by the express Order of the said Reverend Inquisitor.

If several Persons are to be taken up at the same time, the Familiars are commanded so to order things, that they may know nothing of one another’s being apprehended; and at this the Familiars are so expert, that a Father and his three Sons, and three Daughters, who lived together in the same House, were all carried Prisoners to the Inquisition, without knowing any thing of one another’s being there, until seven Years afterwards, when they that were alive, came forth in an Act of the Faith.

The Prisoner being apprehended and carried with all possible Secrecy to the Inquisition, is delivered to the Goaler.

The Prisons of the Inquisition are little dark Rooms, and have no other Furniture but a hard Quilt, and an useful Pot. The Prisoners are not suffered to see any Body but their Keeper, who brings them their Diet, and with it a lighted Lamp, which burns about half an Hour; neither must their Keeper, without Leave from the Inquisitors, entertain any Discourse with them.

After the Prisoner has spent two or three Days and Nights, perhaps Weeks or Months, in his melancholy Apartment, he is carried by his Keeper before the Inquisitors; who, before they ask him a Question, do make him take an Oath to return true Answers to all their Interrogatories; and if he has ever been guilty of any Heresy to confess it to them.

The first Question the Prisoner is asked, is, Whether he knows why he was taken up by the Inquisition? And if he answers, That he does not know; he is then asked, Whether he knows for what Crimes the Inquisition useth to imprison People? If he answers, For Heresy; he is admonished, upon the Oath he has taken, to confess all his Heresies, and to discover all his Teachers and Complices. If the Prisoner denies that he ever held any Heresies, or had ever Communication with any Hereticks, he is gravely told, That the Holy Office does not use to imprison People rashly, or without having good Grounds for what they do, and that therefore he would do well to confess his Guilt; and that the rather, because the Holy Office, contrary to the Custom of all other Courts, is severe to those that deny, but merciful to all that confess their Guilt.

If the Prisoner persists in denying that he ever held any Heresies, his Goaler is called in, and commanded to carry him back to the Place from whence he came, and the Prisoner is admonished strictly to examine his own Conscience, that the next time they send for him, he may be prepared to make a true and full Confession of all his Heresies, Teachers, and Complices. The Prisoner having been allowed two or three Days, perhaps Weeks or Months, more to do this in, is brought before the Inquisitors a second time, and is asked, Whether he comes prepared to confess? And if he answers, That he cannot without accusing himself or others falsly, make any such Confession as they desire of him; they do then ask him, Where he was born, and what his Parents were, and where he went to School, and who were his School-masters, and where he has lived all his time, and with whom he has conversed most, and who has been his Confessor, and when he was last at Confession, and at the Sacrament? with twenty more such Questions: And being told, That they have sufficient Proof of his being an Heretick; they command him, since he cannot repent of his Heresies, unless he confesseth them all, to go back to his Prison, and there pray to God for Grace to dispose him to make a true and full Confession to the saving of his Soul, which is all they seek after. And being again allowed a considerable time to pray, and consider on what the Inquisitors have said to him, he is brought before them a third time; and in case he persists in pleading, Not guilty, he is then asked some Questions concerning divers Heretical Doctrines, but without acquainting him with the Particulars he is charged withal, for fear of leading him thereby to the Knowledge of the Informers or Witnesses: For Example, Whether he believes Christ to be bodily present in the Sacrament, and that it is lawful to adore Images, and to pray to Saints and Angels? And if he affirms, That he did always firmly believe these, and all the other Doctrines of the Roman Church; he is asked, If he always believed these Doctrines, how he came to speak against them? and if he denies that he ever did, he is then told, That since he is so obstinate in his Heresies, of which they have a sufficient Proof before them, they will order their Advocate Fiscal to form his Process, and to convict him of them. But in case the Inquisitors have not sufficient Evidence, notwithstanding that, to draw a Confession from the Prisoner, they have told him oftner than once, That they had, they do then fall a Note lower, and tell the Prisoner, That though they may not have sufficient Proof of his Heretical Words and Actions to convict him of them, that yet they have sufficient to put him on the Rack to make him confess them. And having fixed the Day when he is to undergo the Tortures, when that dismal Day comes, if he does not prevent it by such a Confession as is expected from him, he is led to the Place where the Rack is, attended by an Inquisitor, and a Publick Notary, who is to write down the Answers the Prisoner returns to the Questions which shall be put to him by the Inquisitor, whilst he is upon the Rack. During the time the Executioner is preparing that Engine of unspeakable Cruelty, and is taking off the Prisoner’s Clothes to his Shirt and Drawers the Inquisitor is still exhorting the Prisoner to have Compassion both on his Body and Soul, and by making a true and full Confession of all his Heresies, to prevent his being tortured. But if the Prisoner saith, That he will suffer any thing rather than accuse himself or others falsly, the Inquisitor commands the Executioner to do his Duty, and to begin the Torture; which in the Inquisition is given by twisting a small Cord hard about the Prisoners naked Arms, brought behind his Back, and hoisting him up from the Ground by an Engine to which the Cord is fastned: And as if the miserable Prisoner’s hanging in the Air by his Arms, were not torment enough, he has several Quassations or shakes given him; which is done by screwing his body up higher, and letting it down again with a jerk, which disjoints his arms, and after that the torture is much more exquisite than it was before.

When the prisoner is first hoisted from the Ground, an Hour-glass is turned up, and, which, (if he does not prevent it by making such a Confession of his Heresies as the Inquisitor that is present all the while, and is continually asking him Questions, expects from him,) must run out before he is taken down; To promise to make such a confession, if they will take him off the Rack, not being sufficient to procure him that Mercy, no more than his crying out that he shall expire immediately if they do not give him some Ease; that, as the Inquisitors tell us, being no more than all that are upon their Rack do think they are ready to do.

If the Prisoner endures the Rack without confessing any thing, which few, or none, though never so innocent, are able to so do; so soon as the Hour-glass is out, he is taken down, and carried back to his Prison, where there is a Surgeon ready to put his Bones in joint. And though in all other Courts, the Prisoners having endured the Rack without Confessing the Crimes for which they were tortured, clears ’em and makes void all the Evidence that was against them, yet in the Inquisition, where whatsoever Humanity and right Reason have established in favour of the Prisoner, is left to the Discretion of the Judge, it is commonly otherwise; the Prisoners that will not confess any thing, being usually racked twice; and if they stand it out, tho few of them can do that, thrice.

But if the Prisoner makes the Confession the Inquisitor expects he should on the Rack, it is writ down word for word by the Notary, and is, after the Prisoner has had a day or two’s Rest, carry’d to the Prisoner, to set his hand to it, which if the Prisoner does, it puts an end to his Process, the want of sufficient Evidence to have convicted him, being abundantly supply’d by this extorted Confession, being thus signed by him. But in case the Prisoner, when it is brought to him, refuseth to sign it, affirming it to be false, and to have been extorted from him by the Extremity of the Torture, he is then carried to the Rack a second time to oblige him to repeat and sign the same Confession.

It is a very hard matter for any one that is a Prisoner in the Inquisition for Heresy, to escape the Rack, since neither the professing and maintaining the Doctrines to be true wherewith he is charged, nor the denying of them, can secure him from it, the first being commonly Racked, to make them discover their Teachers and Accomplices; and the second, to oblige them to confess their own Guilt. And if a Prisoner does confess his having spoke some Heretical Words, but to save his Estate, stands in his having spoke them rashly, and in a Passion, without an Heretical Mind, he is racked to make him discover whether it was so or not, or whether his Thoughts were not the same with his Words. If a Prisoner either makes no Confession at all, or does not confess the particular Heretical Words or Facts wherewith he stands charged, and with which the Inquisitors will never acquaint him; he is asked whether he has any thing besides his Denial to offer in his own Defence, and if he has to make use of it: For now the Advocate Fiscal, upon their having Evidence enough against him, is ordered to form his Process. Here, if the Prisoner alledgeth, that unless they will be pleased to let him know the particular Heretical Words, or Facts, he stands charged withal, and who the Persons are that have informed and witnessed against him, it will not be possible for him to make any Defence; he is told, that cannot be done, because, to let him know the particular Heretical Words or Facts, might lead him to the Knowledge of the Informers and Witnesses; who by the fundamental Law of the Inquisition, must never either directly or indirectly be discovered to him.

Now for this singular and inhuman Custom of not letting their Prisoners know the particular Facts they stand charged withal, nor who they are that have informed and witnessed against them, the Inquisitors have nothing to say, but that it is necessary to the Security of the Lives of the Accusers and Witnesses, who if they were known, would be in so great danger; that none would dare to venture to inform or bear Witness against Hereticks in their Court. Which Pretence, tho it might have some Ground when Courts of Inquisition where first erected, no Cty, no not Rome itself, having submitted quietly to them when they were first introduced; it is now notorious to all the World, and to none more than to the Inquisitors themselves, that it is altogether groundless, and especially in Spain and Portugal, where the Inquisition is not only established by Law, but by a wonderful Fascination, is so fixed in the Hearts and Affections of the People, that one that should offer the least Affront to another, for having been an Informer or Witness in the Inquisition, would be torn in a thousand Pieces: And did the Prisoners that have been in the Inquisition but know certainly, who the Persons were, that had informed and witnessed against them, they durst not for their ives speak one word against them, or shew them the less Respect on that account.

Now for a Court to continue a Custom so singularly unjust and cruel, and upon a Pretence all the World knows to be altogether groundless, is a Confidence not to be matched any where, that I know of.

The Prisoner being thus deny’d the knowledge of the Things and Persons, without which it is scarce possible for him, tho never so innocent, to make any Defence, he is notwithstanding that, graciously asked by the Inquisitors whether he desires to have an Advocate and Proctor to help him to make it. If the Prisoner saith he would, he is not to name them, but must take those the Inquisitors shall appoint, who before they have seen their Client, must take the following Oath.

J.N. Doctor of both Laws, do in the Presence of the Lord’s Inquisitors of this Place against Heretical Pravity, having my Hand on the Holy Gospel of God, promise and swear sncerely and faithfully to defend and maintain the Cause of N. a Prisoner in the Prisons of this holy Office, who stands accused and impeached for Causes mentioned in its Acts; but so, as not to use any Trick or Cavil, or to instruct my said Client how to conceal the Truth in Judgment. And I do farther promise and swear, That if I shall by any way discover my said Client to be guilty of the Crime or Crimes wherewith he stands charged, I will thereupon immediately dismiss his Cause. And if by having searched narrowly into his Case, I shall discover that he has had Complices in his Heresies, I will give Information against them to this holy Office: All which I do promise upon Pain of Perjury, and of an Excommunication, from which I cannot be absolved by any but by this holy Office. So help me God, and these holy Gospels.

The same Oath is taken by the Prisoner’s Proctor, as the Inquisitors call him, tho in Truth, both he and the Advocate are the Inquisitors Engines, made use of to fish what they can out of the Prisoner against himself and his Friends, rather than any thing else.

The Prisoner being thus fitted with an Advocate and Proctor, who are not suffered to know any thing more of his Accusers, and of the Witnesses against him, than he himself knows; he is asked by them whether he would have any Questions put by the Inquisitors to those that have informed and witnessed against him, or would have them examined upon any Points: And in case the Prisoner furnisheth his Advocate with any such Questions or Points, they are put by him into Form, and delivered to the Inquisitors.

The Prisoner is asked also whether he has any Witnesses of his Orthodoxy; and if he names any, they are sent for, and heard by the Inquisitors. And as these Witnesses do go to the Inquisition with trembling Hearts, so they are extremely cautious, not to say any thing concerning the Prisoner, that shall imply their having lived in any intimacy with him, for fear of bringing themselves under a Suspicion of Heresy. And by the Laws of the Inquisition, no Relation of the Prisoners within the fourth Degree can be a Witness for him. When the Prisoners Advocate and Proctor are dismissed, they take an Oath that they have no Copy of the Defence the Prisoner made for himself, and that they will never speak of it to any Person whatever, neither is the Prisoner ever suffered to see the Depositions of his own fearful Witnesses, no more than the Depositions of those that are against him.

Beside the fore mentioned, there is another common Process in the Inquisition, which is against those that have murder’d themselves, or died a natural Death in their Prisons. The Process against the first is short; A Prisoner’s having murdered himself being judged such an Evidence of his Guilt, as is sufficient to convict him of the Heresies wherewith he was charged. The Process against the second is carry’d on by the Advocate Fiscal in the same manner as it would have been, had the Prisoner been alive, and the Prisoner’s Relations and Friends, or any other that have any thing to offer in Defence of the Deceased, are by a publick Edict summon’d to appear before the Inquisitors within forty Days, to give their Evidence; and if upon this Summons none do appear to offer any thing in Vindication of the Deceased, as I believe few are ever so hardy as to do that, the Deceased, after the Expiration of that Term of Days, is acquitted, or condemned, in the same manner that he would have been had he been alive. And if he is condemned, his whole Estate is forfeited, and his Body and Effigies are burnt at the next Act of the Faith, as are the Bodies and Effigies of those that have murdered themselves.

But the Power of the Inquisition extends not only to those that died in its Prisons, but to the Bodies, Estates and good Names of all, that, after their Decease, shall be convicted of having died Hereticks. And tho as to the Estates of those that are convicted of having dy’d Hereticks, they can go no farther than forty Years, as to the taking of their Bones out of their Graves and burning them, and the depriving them of their good Name, there is no Limitation of Time.

When a competent number of Prisoners are convicted of Heresy, either by their own voluntary, or extorted Confession, or upon the Evidence of certain Witnesses, a Day is fix’d by the chief Inquisitor for a Jayl-delivery, which is called by them, an Act of the Faith, and which is always upon a Sunday. In the Morning of the Day the Prisoners are all brought into a great Hall, where they have the Habits put on they are to wear in the Procession, which begins to come out of the Inquisition about 9 of the Clock in the Morning.

The first in the Procession are the Dominican Fryars, who carry the Standard of the Inquisition, which on the one side hath their Founder, Dominic’s Picture, and on the other side the Cross, betwixt an Olive Tree and a Sword, with this Motto, Justicia & Misericordia: Next after the Dominicans come the Penitents, some with Benitoes, and some without, according to the nature of their Crimes. They are all in black Coats without Sleeves, and barefooted, with a Wax Candle in their hands. Next come the Penitents who have narrowly escap’d being Burnt, who over their black Coat have Flames painted, with their Points turned downward, to signify their having been saved, but so as by Fire. This Habit is call’d by the Portugueze, Feugo [sic] revolto, or Flames turned up side down. Next come the Negative or Relapsed that are to be Burnt, with Flames upon their Habit, pointing upwards, and next come those who profess Doctrines contrary to the Faith of the Roman Church, and who besides Flames on their Habit pointing upward, have their Picture, which is drawn two or three days before upon their Breasts, with Dogs, Serpents, and Devils, all with open Mouths painted about it.

Pegna, a Famous Spanish Inquisitor, calls this Procession, Horrendum ac tremendium Spetaculum, and so it is in truth, there being something in the Looks of all the Prisoners, besides those that are to be Burnt, that is ghastly and disconsolate, beyond what can be imagined; and in the Eyes and Countenance of those that are to be Burnt, there is something that looks fierce and eager.

The Prisoners that are to be Burnt alive, besides a Familiar, which ll the rest have, have a Jesuit on each hand of them, who are continually preaching to them, to abjure their Heresies; but if they offer to speak any thing in defence of the Doctrines they are going to suffer Death for professing, they are immediately gagg’d, and not suffer’d to speak a Word more.

This I saw done to a Prisoner, presently after he came out of the Gates of the Inquisition, upon his having look’d up to the Sun, which he had not seen before in several Years, and cry’d out in a Rapture; How is it possible for People that behold that glorious Body, to worship any Being but him that created it? After the Prisoners comes a Troop of Familiars on Horseback, and after them the Inquisitors, and other Officers of the Court upon Mules; and last of all comes the Inquisitor General upon a White Horse, led by 2 Men, with a black Hat, and a green Hatband, and attended by all the Nobles, that are not employ’d as Familiars in the Procession.

In the Terreiro de Paco (which may be as far from the Inquisition as White-hall is from Temple-bar) there is a Scaffold erected, which may hold two or three thousand People; at the one end sit the Inquisitors, and at the other end the Prisoners, and in the same order as they walked in the Procession, those that are to be burnt, being seated on the highest Benches behind the rest, which may be ten Foot above the Floor of the Scaffold.

After some Prayers, and a Sermon, which is made up of Encomiums of the Inquisition, and Invectives against Hereticks, a Secular Priest ascends a Desk, which stands near the middle of the Scaffold, who having first taken all the Abjurations of the Penitents who kneel before him, one by one in the same Order they walked in the Procession, at last recites the final Sentence of the Inquisition upon those that are to be put to Death, in the Words following:

We, the Inquisitors of Heretical Pravity, having, with the Concurrence of the most Illustrations N. Lord Archbishop of Lisbon, or of his Deputy, N. called on the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ, and of his Glorious Mother, the Virgin Mary, and sitting on our Tribunal, and Judging, with the Holy Gospels lying before us, that in our Judgment may be, is the sight of God, and our Eyes may behold what is just in all Matters betwixt the Magnifick Doctor N. Advocate Fiscal on the one part, and you, N. now before us on the other, we have Ordained, that is this place, and on this day you should receive your definitive Sentence;

We do therefore by this our Sentence put in Writing, define, pronounce, declare, and sentence thee, N. of the City of Lisbon, to be a Convicted, Confessing, Affirmative, and Professed Heretick, and so be deliver’d, and left by us as such, to the Secular Arm: and we by this our Sentence, do cast thee out of the Ecclesiastical Court, as a Convicted, Confessing, Affirmative and Professed Heretick, and we do leave and deliver thee to the Secular Arm, and to the Power of the Secular Court; but at the same time do most earnestly beseech that Court so to moderate its Sentence, as not to touch thy Blood, or to put thy Life in any danger.

Is there in all History, an Instance of so gross and confident a Mockery of God, and the World, as this of the Inquisitors earnestly beseeching the Civil Magistrates not to put the Hereticks they have condemned, and delivered to them, to death? For were they in earnest when they make this Solemn Petition to the Secular Magistrates, why do they bring their Prisoners out of the Inquisition, and deliver them to those Magistrates, in Coats painted over with Flames? why do they teach, that Hereticks, above all other Malefactors, ought to be punished with Death? And why do they never resent the Secular Magistrates having so little regard to their earnest and joynt Petition, as never to fail to Burn all the Hereticks which are delivered to ’em by the Inquisition, within an Hour or two after they have them in their hands? And why in Rome, where the Supreme, Civil, and Ecclesiastical Authority are lodged in the same Person, is this Petition of the Inquisition, which is made there as well as in other places, never granted? Certainly, not to take any notice of the old Canon, which forbids the Clergy to have any hand in the Blood of any Person whatsoever, would be a much less Dishonour to the Inquisition, than to pretend to go on, observing that Canon, by making a Petition which is known to be so contrary to their Principles and Desires.

The Prisoners are no sooner in the hands of the Civil Magistrate, than they are loaded with Chains, before the Eyes of the Inquisitors, and being carried first to the Secular Goal, are within an Hour or two brought from thence before the Lord Chief Justice, who, without knowing any thing of their particular Crimes, or of the Evidence that was against them, asks ’em one by one, In what Religion they do intend to die? If they answer, that they will die in the Communion of the Roman Church, they are condemned by him, To be carried forthwith to the place of Execution, and there to be first strangled, and afterwards burnt to Ashes. But if they say, They will die in the Protestant, or in any other Faith that is contrary to the Roman, they are then sentenced by him, To be carry’d forthwith to the place of Execution, and there to be burnt alive.

At the place of Execution, which at Lisbon is the Ribera, there are so many Stakes set up as there are Prisoners to be burnt, with a good quantity of dry Furz about them. The Stakes of the Profess’d, as the Inquisitors call them, may be about four Yards high, and have a small Board [whereupon] the Prisoner is to be seated, within half a Yard of their top. The Negative and Relapsed being first strangled and burnt, the Profess’d go up a Ladder betwixt the two Jesuits which have attended them all Day; and when they are come even with the forementioned Board, they turn about to the People, and the Jesuits spend near a Quarters of an Hour, exhorting the Profess’d to be reconciled to the church of Rome; which if they refuse to be, the Jesuits come down, and the Executioner ascends, who, having turned the Profess’d off the Ladder upon the Seat, and chained their Bodies close to the Stakes, he leaves them, and the Jesuits go up to them a second time, to renew their Exhortation to them, and at parting tell them, That they leave them to the Devil, who is standing at their Elbow to receive their Souls and carry them with him into the Flames of Hell-Fire, so soon as they are out of their Bodies. Upon this a great Shout is raised, and as soon as the Jesuits are off the Ladders, the cry is, Let the Dog’s Beards, Let the Dog’s Beards be made; which is done by thrusting flaming Furzes fastened to a long Pole against their Faces. And this Inhumanity is commonly continued until their Faces are burnt to a Coal, and is always accompanied with such loud Acclamations of Joy as are not to be heard upon any other occasion; a Bull-Feast, or a Farce being dull Entertainments to the using of a profess’d Heretick thus inhumanely.

The Professt’s Beards having been thus made, or trim’d, as they call it in jollity, Fire is set to the Furz which are at the bottom of the Stake, and above which the Professt are chained so high, that the top of the Flame seldom reacheth higher than the Seat they sit upon; and if there happen to be a Wind (to which that Place is much exposed) it seldom reacheth so high as their Knees: So that though if there be a Calm, the Professt are commonly dead in about half an hour after the Furz is set on fire; yet if the Weather prove windy, they are not after that dead in an hour and a half, or 2 Hours, and so are really roasted, and not burnt to Death. But tho out of Hell there cannot possibly be a more lamentable Spectacle than this, being joined with the Sufferers (so long as they are able to speak) crying out, Misericordia por amor de Dios, Mercy for the love of God; yet it is beheld by People of both Sexes, and of all Ages, with such Transports of Joy and Satisfaction, as are not on any other occasion to be met with.

And that the Reader may not think that this inhumane Joy may be the Effect of a natural Cruelty that is in those Peoples disposition, and not of the Spirit of their Religion, he may rest assured, that all publick Malefactors, besides Hereticks, have their violent Deaths no where more tenderly lamented, than among the same People, and even when there is nothing in the manner of their Deaths that appears inhumane or cruel.

Within a few Days after the Execution, the Pictures of all that have been burnt, and which were taken off their Breasts when they were brought to the Stake, are hung up in St. Domingo’s Church, whose West End, tho very high, is all covered over with these Trophies of the Inquisition hung up there in honour to Dominic, who, to fulfil his Mother’s Dream, was the first Inventor of that Court; Dominic’s Mother, when she was ready to be brought to Bed of him, having dream’d that she was delivered not of a humane Creature, but of a fierce Dog, with a burning Torch in his Mouth.


A List of the Persons who received their Sentences n the Act of the Faith, celebrated in the City of Lisbon, on the 10th of May, 1682.

[We omit numerous people whom Geddes itemizes having died in prison or sentenced sub-capitally, e.g., flogging, imprisonment, deportation to colonial Brazil, the galleys, and so forth. -ed.]

The Persons delivered to the Secular Arm.

[Age] 43, Gaspar Lopez Pereire, a New Christian, a Merchant, a Batchelor, the Son of Francisco Lopez Pereire, a Native of the Town of Mogadouro, an Inhabitant of Madrid, and Resident in this City of Lisbon, convicted, confessing, affirmative, professing the Law of Moses, Obstinate, and Impenitent.

[Age] 33, Antonio de Aguiar, a New Christian, a Merchant, a Native of Lamilunilla, near to Madrid, an Inhabitant of Sevil, and Resident in this City of Lisbon, convicted, confessing, affirmative, professing the Law of Moses, Obstinate, Impenitent.

[Age] 42, Miguel Henriques da Fonseca, a New Christian, an Advocate, Native of the Town of Avios, an Inhabitant in this City of Lisbon, convicted, confessing, affirmative, professing the Law of Moses, Obstinate, Impenitent.

These three were burnt alive, within two Hours after the Inquisition had delivered them to the Secular Arm.

[Age] 32, Pero Serraon, more than half a New Christian, a Batchelor the Son of Antonio Serraon, an Apothecary, who is in the List, a Native, and Inhabitant of this City, convicted, Negative, and Obstinate.

This last was first strangled, and afterwards burnt to Ashes with the other Three.

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1811: Arthur William Hodge, brutal slaveowner

Add comment May 8th, 2020 Headsman

West Indies planter Arthur William Hodge hanged on this date in 1811 — a distinctive punishment, for the crime imputed was the murder of his own property, a slave named Prosper.

The Oxford-educated gentleman ruled an estate upon Tortola called Bellevue, aptly called* for Hodge gives every symptom of laboring under some sort of madness, even beyond that madness which might be inherent to a slaveholding society. Famous among other planters for his cruelty long before he came to his own grief, Hodge had allegedly reduced through sheer barbarity his own farm’s slave roster from 140 in 1803 to 35 by the time of his death. (This allegation seems to be contradicted by a post-execution advertisement for the sale of his estate enumerating 160 slaves.)

Documents published in 1811 as a Report on the Trial of Arthur Hodge, Esquire — available here and here — are thick with blood-curdling reports of Hodge’s “repeated and excessive acts of cruelty towards his slaves,” e.g.

That a slave, called “Tom Boiler,” between three and four years ago [i.e., circa 1807-1808 -ed.], was by order of the said Hodge, laid down and cart-whipped without intermission for at least an hour; that the said Arthur Hodge stood by and saw it done … that when the said negro slave “Tom Boiler,” after the infliction of said punishment attempted to rise, he could not stand, but was taken up and carried to the sick-house, from whence he never came out, but died in about a week …

That this deponent hath known the said Hodge to order, at different times, kettles of boiling water, prepared for the purpose of pouring said water down the throats of his negroes, who had offended him.

That Margaret, the cook, and Else, a washer, were served so; that said Hodge said they were going to poison Mrs. Hodge and the children, and he would put an end to them — that this deponent did not see the boiling water poured down their throats, because she had not the heart to be present; but heard the screams of Margaret, and saw both Margaret and Else running afterwards with scalded mouths, &c. …

That this deponent in passing the sick-house saw a child, about ten years of age, named Sampson, with the skin all off … that this deponent made enquiry concerning said child, and learnt by general report on the estate, from the negroes, that said child had been by order of said Hodge, dipped into a copper of boiling liquor.

-Deposition of a free black woman named Perreen Georges who was intermittently employed at Bellevue

Another negro slave, about nineteen years of age, was by order of said Hodge very severely cart-whipped and put in heavy irons, crook puddings, &c. and allowed little or nothing to eat. That he was burnt in the mouth with an hot iron, and that he, this deponent, saw him in consequence thereof, with his mouth all raw, and that he shortly after died …

That a free man, named Peter, was hired by said Hodge … to work as a cooper, on said Hodge’s estate. And that he, this deponent, has seen said Hodge in his presence, cart-whipping said Peter repeatedly, at short quarters,** and every other way, and put chains upon him, and had him worked upon his estate with the field negroes; that Peter died as this deponent believes, in consequence of the ill treatment of said Hodge …

That Bella, a small mulatto child, reputed to be the natural child of said Hodge, by his female slave Peggy, (then about eight years of age, as this deponent believes) was repeatedly cart-whipped by order of said Hodge; and this deponent further saith, he hath more than once seen the said Hodge strike said child with a stick, upon her head, and break her head; and hath repeatedly seen him kick her so violently in the lower part of her belly, as to send her several feet on the ground, from whence, he, this deponent, thought she never again would rise.

-Deposition of Stephen M’Keough, a former overseer on Hodges’s Bellevue estate

It’s a matter of speculation just why it was that Hodge’s excesses were judged by his peers sufficiently outrageous to merit what appears to be the first and only execution doled out in the British empire to a slaveholder for mistreating his chattel. Was it fear in the wake of the Haitian Revolution that his behavior invited a jacquerie on this sugar colony where the slave population outnumbered the white landowners 7:1? A stirring of the advancing abolitionist spirit that had barred the slave trade in 1807? Notably, this prosecution in 1811 for a three-year-old crime took place only with the advent of a new anti-slavery governor.

That crime, however dated when finally brought to bar, was every bit as dreadful as the sampling above from Perreen Georges and Stephen M’Keough — and Virgin Island elites gave short shrift to the planter’s defense “that a Negro, being property, ‘it was no greater offense in law for his owner to kill him, than it would be to kill his dog.'” “My God! Are we patiently to hear such a declaration?” the Crown prosecutor answered in horror. “If we one instant even tacitly acquiesced we could expect nothing short of the vengeance of heaven to overtake us and the judgments of an offended Deity, with plague, pestilence and famine to be our merited punishments.”

Prosper caught Hodge’s fury on account of losing a mango and when he was unable to produce payment for the fruit he was flogged 100 times on consecutive days, until he was too weak even to cry out. Carried to a sick-house and abandoned there without rations, he was “found there dead, and in a state of putrefaction, some days afterwards; that crawlers were found in his wounds, and not a piece of black flesh was to be seen on the hinder part of his body where he had been flogged.” With the colony in a state of outrage at these charges — “I am sensible that the country thirsts for my blood,” Hodge said in his unsuccessful closing statement to his jurors — the court defied all precedent to condemn him. In the few days before the sentence was executed, Tortola was heavily locked down to preempt possible disturbances around the public hanging, which went off without incident.

However anomalous the execution of a slaveowner, Hodge’s tyranny would be invoked again and again in a project to reform judicial administration of the West Indies that stretched into the 1830s. The concern, as Lauren Benton and Lisa Ford describe in Rage for Order, was that these reservoirs of local and private power, barely checked in a distant colony where the justices deciding cases were hopelessly compromised by their membership in the same social circles and economic engines as their fellows, corrupted the law, bringing Britain herself into disrepute. “The flywheel of this project,” Benton and Ford note, “was the subordination of masters to imperial authority, not the championing of the rights of slaves.”

* The New York asylum by which the innocent name Bellevue attains its association with psychiatric disorders did not open until 1879.

** M’Keough’s testimony digresses to define close or short quarters as Hodge’s own term, meaning “the most cruel and severe mode of cart-whipping, as the whip is shortened and goes all round the body, cutting every part, particularly the stomach and belly, making no noise, which he believes to have been an inducement with said Hodge to practice it.” While we’re dallying with definitions, a cart-whip is described as “a certain instrument of punishment … made of wood and rope of the value of one shilling” used to flog and beat slaves.

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1720: James Cotter the Younger

Add comment May 7th, 2020 Headsman

Just, Prudent, Pious, everything that’s Great
Lodg’d n his Breast, and form’d the Man complete,
His Body may consume, his Virtues shall
Recorded be, till the World’s Funeral.

-broadsheet elegy from Cork: History & society

On this date in 1720, Irish Catholic landlord James Cotter the Younger was hanged at Cork City. The charge was rape — but in the eyes of most it was his politics that were really on trial.

In a way it was the dexterity of his old man, James Cotter the Elder, for navigating the English Civil War that set up his offspring for this unfortunate fate. A second son of an ancient house, this man made a scintillating career as a royalist officer who went into exile during the Cromwellian interregnum.

Naturally Cotter-Elder made out like a Cotter-Bandit upon the monarchy’s restoration, proving his zeal by hunting down and slaying an absconded regicide.* Emoluments ensued, eventually raising the man to a colonial governor. With the resulting wealth he consolidated his family’s fragmented estates and became one of southwestern Ireland’s greatest landholders — yet his deft political touch enabled him to keep his station intact after the Glorious Revolution deposed the Stuart dynasty he had served so excellently. Still, Cotter’s survival in the anomalous position of a Catholic Jacobite lord under a regime which Jacobites thirsted to overthrow required some tradeoffs; according to this Carrigtwohill newsletter (scroll down to p. 62), he had to let his son be raised as a Protestant to insure his inheritance. The family apparently found a loophole by marrying him young to a Protestant, which provided the youth a legal foothold to secure his position whilst openly returning to the old faith.

Unfortunately the ample rents that the 16-year-old Master Cotter became entitled to upon his father’s death in 1705 did not come with dad’s diplomatic talent.

In the wake of the failed 1715 Jacobite rising, a Protestant rival accused Cotter of abducting and raping a Quaker woman named Elizabeth Squibb. In Catholic eyes, the whole proceeding was a naked assassination, with partisan judges and jurors ramrodding a dubious conviction to reduce a major Catholic family. If so, it was successful; Cork noblemen preferred the charge to Dublin. The conviction was enforced with speed — allegedly to preempt any possible pardon — despite the outrage of a good portion of the populace. On execution day, it was necessary to improvise a rope pegged to an obliging post, because angry Cotter supporters had destroyed the gallows which was to bear his body. Gnashing of teeth among the printed-word set ran to some 20 still-surviving poems and broadsheets lamenting

* The assassination target was parliamentarian John Lisle. In 1685, Lisle’s widow was targeted for a still-infamous judicial killing after the Whig rebellion of Monmouth failed.

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1630: Stine Teipel and Grete Halman, nine-year-old witches

Add comment May 4th, 2020 Headsman

Horribly, on this date in 1630 nine-year-old “witches” named Christine Teipel and Grete Halman were executed for witchcraft, in either Oberkirchen (where they were from) or Fredeburg (where they were tried).

For unknown reasons — maybe some deep well of trauma, or maybe just being a mischievous small child with no grasp of the consequences — “Stine” Teipel began spouting off in 1628 about being a witch herself, and about all the neighbors she knew who were also witches. The damage was not immediate — likely she wasn’t taken seriously — but the girl’s fabulisms lay around like dry tinder, perfect material in early 17th century Germany for gathering to a pyre.

The next year, a Hexenprozess local maximum brought her charges into the ambit of a judiciary and she

told the court that, after some ointment had been applied under her arm, she had flown to a meeting place of witches, several of whom she had recognized. She had also been on a mountain where the devil had provided everyone with beautiful clothes, as well as beer and wine in barrels of gold. In her mind the sabbath was a sort of dressing-up party in which the villagers acquired higher status and partook in a splendid meal. Belonging herself to one of the poorest families of cotters, the feast represented a kind of Schlaraffenland (Land of Cockayne). The dance had lasted two hours, and her partner had had a ‘thing’ on his body, which he had put in her private parts, but it had not given her any pleasure. (The Oxford Handbook of Witchcraft)

Grete Halman was another girl whom she accused, and who corroborated the charges, with their implications of various named adults then echoing in the customary fashion into secondary accusations and cross-confirmations. Both children, along with seven adults, were executed on May 4 — just a fraction of some 61 witches known to be put to death by this court over the span of about a year. Stine Teipell’s stepmother and Grete Halman’s parents were among the other victims.

Visitors to Schmallenberg can take in an exhibit on this particular horror at the local Holthausen museum.

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Entry Filed under: 17th Century,Burned,Capital Punishment,Children,Death Penalty,Execution,Germany,History,Mass Executions,Public Executions,Witchcraft,Women

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1919: Gustav Landauer, anarchist intellectual

Add comment May 2nd, 2020 Headsman

On this date in 1919, the anarchist writer and intellectual Gustav Landauer was summarily executed — or just murdered — by the Freikorps after the fall of the Bavarian Soviet.

A Jewish bourgeois from Karlsruhe, Landauer (English Wikipedia entry | German was a pacifist who ran in radical circles (with the usual prison interims) around the fin de seicle.

Although the newspaper he edited was confusingly called Der Sozialist, Landauer “wanted a revolution in which — contra Marxists — “individuals, and not the proletariat, would help to fashion a new mode of cooperative living through personal example rather than through politics and party.” He influenced the Bruderhof Movement, the Kibbutzim, and contemporaries like his friend Martin Buber.

Come World War I, he was part of the Social Democrat coalition that rejected that party’s craven support of the national war machine and cleaved off as the Independent Social Democratic Party (USPD), an affiliation that led him into the short-lived workers’ council government in Munich. It was ironic given his long advocacy of non-violent non-cooperation as the key to remaking the world that his last days would be tied to a violent rising of militants, and its violent suppression. He spurned opportunities to escape before the right-wing militias overran the Soviet.

On May 1st 1919 he was arrested by troops from the counterrevolutionary White Guard and thrown into jail in the nearby town of Starnberg. The next morning he was transferred to Stadelheim Prison. An eyewitness later described to Ernst Toller the events of May 2nd:

Amid shouts of “Landauer! Landauer!” an escort of Bavarian and Württemberger Infantry brought him out into the passage outside the door of the examination room. An officer struck him in the face, the men shouted: “Dirty Bolshie! Let’s finish him off!” and a rain of blows from rifle-butts drove him out into the yard. He said to the soldiers round him: “I’ve not betrayed you. You don’t know yourselves how terribly you’ve been betrayed”. Freiherr von Gagern went up to him with a heavy truncheon until he sank in a heap on the ground. He struggled up again and tried to speak, but one of them shot him through the head. He was still breathing, and the fellow said: “That blasted carrion has nine lives; he can’t even die like a gentleman.” Then a sergeant in the life guards shouted out: “pull off his coat!” They pulled it off, and laid him on his stomach; “Stand back there and we’ll finish him off properly!” one of them called and shot him in the back. Landauer still moved convulsively, so they trampled on him till he was dead; then stripped the body and threw it into the wash-house.

Another witness later told Toller that Landauer’s last words to his attackers were “Kill me then! To think that you are human!” Landauer’s body was buried in a mass grave from which his daughter Charlotte secured its release on May 19th that year, but it was not until May 1923 that the urn containing his remains was interred in Munich’s Waldfriedhof. In 1925, with financial backing from Georg Kaiser, a monument was erected by the Anarchist-Syndicalist Union of Munich but it was later torn down by the Nazis, who dug up his remains in 1933 and sent them to the Jewish community in Munich. He was finally laid to rest in the Jewish cemetery on Ungererstrasse. (Source)

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Bludgeoned,Borderline "Executions",Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Germany,History,Intellectuals,Jews,No Formal Charge,Power,Revolutionaries,Shot,Summary Executions,Wartime Executions

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1731: Elizabeth Needham fatally pilloried

Add comment April 30th, 2020 Headsman

On this date in 1731 the English madam Elizabeth Needham stood in the pillory at Park Place, St. James’s, London. It wasn’t a death sentence de jure … but it became one de facto.

“Mother Needham” kept one of London’s most renowned brothels, far more exclusive than the dives of Covent Garden, and she made herself famous enough in the 1710s and 1720s to rate a place in the burgeoning print culture: Alexander Pope makes sly reference to her in The Dunciad, and as Hogarth seems to have modeled the titular courtesan of his Harlot’s Progress plates upon her.


Needham was famous for her recruiting talent. Here, Hogarth’s pockmarked Needham figure inveigles a pretty lass — the series’s central character, “Moll Hackabout” — freshly arriving to London from the hinterlands, while actual Needham client (and notorious sex-beast*) Francis Charteris leers from the stoop. In a subsequent panel in this same series, Hackabout as a seasoned whore encounters another Executed Today customer.

In her heyday a variety of japes, capers, and scandals unfolded in her precincts, beyond the obvious that was her stock in trade. For a number of years she carried out business unmolested by any chastisement from the law, but she suffered a couple of arrests in the 1720s and the heat on London’s brothels escalated uncomfortably with the onset of the 1730s. Thus it was that the wily old procuress earned a conviction for keeping a disorderly house on April 29, 1731.

Her punishment included a small fine and the duty to stand twice in the pillory, exposed to public obloquy. We have already noted in these pages that the horrors of such an ordeal extended beyond the reputational to an outright threat to life and limb. While it was not unheard-of for the pillorying to invert into a ritual of celebration and triumph for its sufferer were the crowd in sympathy, “it would seem that the default crowd at the pillory attended in expectation of an aggressive event.” (“Sodomites in the Pillory in Eighteenth-century London” by Peter Bartlett, Social & Legal Studies, December 1997)

This image of a crowd expecting to abuse the convict is consistent with the report in Fogg’s Weekly Journal in November 1728:

One Mitchel stood in the Pillory in Little Britain, for designing to extort Money from a Gentleman, by threatening to swear a detestable Sin against him [i.e., sodomy] — It was reported that he was to stand again in Aldersgate-street, upon which Occasion the Populace assembled, having furnish’d themselves with dead Cats, and other Ammunition used upon such Occasions, but the Person who was to make all the Sport not appearing, they diverted themselves with throwing their dead Cats at one another.

Elizabeth Needham had a wide notoriety that would have been especially charged in a mob’s eyes by her association with a villain like Charteris: we see her in Hogarth’s illustration above (not yet completed as of the time of her death) as the corrupt agent of predatory magnates. Moreover, she was apparently already weakened by illness. And although she was suffered simply to lie face down on the stage rather than standing dangerously exposed in the apparatus — and although she could afford to hire bodyguards to keep the crowd somewhat at bay — she received the aggressive version of the crowd whose abuse proved fatal to her.

Rictor Norton’s invaluable compilations of reporting on eighteenth century crime capture grub street’s coverage of the frightful end of Mother Needham (and one unfortunate spectator):

The famous Mother Needham was set before the pillory facing Park-place. She was so very ill, that she laid along under the pillory, notwithstanding which she was severely pelted, and it is thought she will die in a day or two … A boy getting upon a lamp post near the pillory, fell from the same upon iron spikes, and tore his belly in so violent a manner, that his bowels came out, and he expired in a few hours in great agonies …

Tuesday, May 4. Yesterday morning died Mother Needham … She declared in her last words, that what most affected her was the terror of standing in the pillory to-morrow in New Palace-Yard, having been so ungratefully used by the populace on Wednesday … They acted very ungratefully, considering how much she had done to oblige them.

* Charteris caught his own death sentence in 1730 for raping a servant, although he had the pull to obtain a royal pardon — with the aid of one of those familiar squid-inking campaigns of smearing his victim and casting doubt on the circumstances. “All the world agree he deserved to be hanged long ago, but they differ whether on this occasion,” one noble confided to his diary.

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Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Arts and Literature,Borderline "Executions",Businessmen,England,History,Public Executions,Sex,Torture,Women

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1972: King Ntare V of Burundi

Add comment April 29th, 2020 Headsman

On this date in 1972, (former) King Ntare V of Burundi was summarily executed at the outset of the 1972 genocide of ethnic Hutus.

He was the son of Mwambutsa IV, whose half-century reign dated all the way back to the German colonial period which gave way (in 1916) to the Belgian colonial period and finally to independence in 1962. He had a job all the while to manage relations between the majority Hutus and the elite Tutsis: it was this conflict that would write the unpleasant end of this family’s dynasty.

In 1965, a Hutu coup attempt forced Mwambutsa to flee into exile — although the coup did not succeed, and our principal Crown Prince Charles Ndizeye succeeded him as Ntare V. Ntare was all of 18 years old, the only surviving son of his generation but a mere shadow of the half-brother who had seemed destined for this inheritance until an assassin‘s bullet struck him down in 1961. He was not equal to the tumultuous political situation.

Before 1966 was out, Ntare too had been chased into exile by a coup executed by officer-turned-prime minister Michel Micombero — Burundi’s military dictator for the subsequent decade. In 1972, Burundi lured the expatriate prince back to his homeland with a pledge of safekeeping — in the words of the note conveyed to Uganda, whose government arranged to helicopter him back to Burundi,

Your excellency can be assured that as soon as Mr. Charles Ndizeye returns to my country he will be considered an ordinary citizen and that as such his life and his security will be assured. I will do all that I can so that he may participate in the building of Burundi’s society as an honest citizen.

But he was quickly placed under house arrest in Gitega, accused of attempting to invade Burundi at the head of an army of mercenaries.

On April 27, 1972, a Hutu rebellion became the trigger for a genocidal crackdown thought to have claimed 100,000 to 300,000 lives and the cream of the Hutus’ intelligentsia — teachers, civil servants, and community leaders who were systematically hunted by death squads working from kill lists. Hundreds of thousands more preserved their lives only by escaping from Burundi.

Sometime the night of April 29, Mr. Charles Ndizeye became one of the earliest casualties in this bloodbath. The circumstances of his killing have never been entirely clear; the official line at the time was that he was shot spontaneously when supporters tried to liberate him from custody; the counterclaim is that he was lined up and gunned down in cold blood.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Borderline "Executions",Burundi,Execution,Heads of State,History,No Formal Charge,Royalty,Shot,Summary Executions,Wartime Executions

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