On this date in 1734, a Portuguese-born slave known as Marie-Joseph Angélique was publicly hanged before the burned ruins of old Montreal on an accusation of having set the blaze.
Having recently been caught attempting to abscond with her lover, a white servant named Claude Thibault, Angelique was the instant consensus community suspect when Montreal caught fire on April 10. Forty-six buildings in the still-small frontier town burned; Angelique was arrested the very next morning.
(Thibault fled town, his fate unknown but presumptively no worse than what befell his paramour.)
calls for the said Marie Joseph Angelique in reparation for the Fire caused by Her and other issues brought forward at the trial, to be condemned to make honourable amends Disrobed, a Rope around her Neck, holding in her hands a flaming torch weighing two Pounds before the door and main entrance of the parish Church of the said City of Montreal, where She will be led by the Executor of the high Court And there on her knees state and declare in a loud and intelligible voice that she maliciously and defiantly and wrongly set the Said fire for which She is repentant, [and] ask Forgiveness from God, the King and the Court; this done she is to be taken to the public square of the said City of Montreal to be Hanged until dead at the gallows erected for this Purpose at the said square, and then her dead Body is to be placed on a flaming pyre and burned and her Ashes Cast to the wind, her belongings taken and confiscated by the King; prior to this the said Marie Joseph Angelique is to be subjected to torture in the ordinary and extraordinary ways in order to have her reveal her accomplices …
Although the torture broke Angelique’s now-useless denial of her own guilt, she maintained her defense of Claude Thibault, insisting that she acted alone. It’s up for debate whether she did, in fact, act alone, or act at all — and if Angelique was guilty, what meaning or intent one can ascribe to her action.
There’s a fascinating exploration of this case, including the available primary documents, available in English or French.
On this date in 1940, German forces even then completing their rout of France — the humiliating capitulation was mere hours away — massacred a detachment of African soldiers who mounted a doomed resistance at Lentilly.
Tirailleurs Senegalais were recruited not only from Senegal but from throughout France’s domains in sub-Saharan Africa. (There were also Algerian, Tunisian, and Moroccan tirailleurs.)
Though these soldiers’ own lands were occupied, they were instrumental to defending the freedom of their occupier on European soil: over half a million African tirailleurs are thought to have served les couleurs in the two World Wars, and died in all the horrible ways those slaughterhouses could devise.
It’s hardly a surprise that the black man couldn’t catch a break from skull-measuring Aryan race warriors, but then, France too had its own less than comfortable relationship with these dark-hued citizens summoned from distant villages to bleed in the trenches of Europe. The military’s official guidelines emphasized (French link) the “Senegalese’s” special value as cannon fodder.
If a sacrificial mission is necessary, a defense to the death to provide cover for forces to regroup, appeal to the valor of the black fighter.
In this instance, knowing full well that the campaign was lost, French officers flipped open the “sacrificial mission” playbook and ordered their African charges to oppose a German march near Lyon “without thought of retreat.”
Since victory was equally out of the question, that left death. Wehrmacht troops duly prepared by Nazi racial typecasting to see their foes as savages were all too ready to wipe out African troops they greatly outclassed.
A monument to the Tirailleurs in Lentilly, France. Image (c) filoer and used with permission.
By the end of Longshanks’ life, the old king was so irate at their relationship (the prince had had the temerity to request a title and castles for Gaveston) that Gaveston was booted out of the country.
(But at least he wasn’t defenestrated, the fate of the fictional Gaveston stand-in “Phillip” in Braveheart.)
Ah, the gay-baiting.
The younger Edward immediately recalled his friend when death came for Longshanks, and Gaveston was resented both by English peers and the young Queen Isabella for the favor the new king held him in.
The purported homosexual relationship between Edward II and Peirs Gaveston is generally believed* though ultimately speculative, reading between the lines of chroniclers who are sometimes bitterly hostile towards these two. “The King loved an evil male sorcerer more than he did his wife,” for instance, is a bit of propaganda — we obviously don’t believe the “sorcery” bit — and even that’s not completely explicit.
There’s a strong circumstantial interpretation to made, but since the particulars of Edward’s behavior with his favorite behind drawn tapestries are permanently unavailable to us, it will suffice us to say that this interpretation has conditioned the “Piers Gaveston” who comes to us in later centuries as a widely-credited cultural artifact.
Whether as calumny or commendation, homosexuality is the first thing everyone “knows” about Piers Gaveston, the emblem of his life and the doomed reign of his sovereign. We meet him from the other side of Stonewall, even when we meet him in Renaissance poetry or Renaissance drama.
The historical, flesh-and-blood Piers — and there’s a very thorough biography of him here** — was certainly defined by more than gay identity, real or imputed.
The personal resentment he inspired in the likes of Lancaster and Beauchamp was political, mapped onto the timeless power struggle between nobles and crown, and within the nobility itself.
The king trusted Gaveston, who was himself just the son of a knight, with plum royal assignments like governing Ireland, and Gaveston executed them effectively; with an immoderate confidence in his own considerable talents, the favorite was not above tweaking his rivals with derisive nicknames.
The Lancaster faction progressively got the upper hand on Edward and Gaveston, and with civil war brewing, they captured the hated Gascon at Scarborough Castle while Edward scrambled unavailingly to raise an army of his own.
He was held privately for nine days before Lancaster — “a sulky, quarrelsome, and vindictive man … quick to resort to violence,” by Alison Weir’s reckoning — decided he had to go. Gaveston was beheaded without color of law at Blacklow Hill near Warwick. A monument to his memory still stands there today.
Thou executioner of foule bloodie rage,
To act the will of lame decrepit age.
The grief-stricken monarch would serve his revenge upon the Earl of Lancaster ten years’ cold, beheading him for treason in 1322 upon the verdict of the man who had by then slid into Gaveston’s place in the king’s favor, Hugh Despenser.
A quarter-century later — full half a lifetime, for Ronnie Lee Gardner — the clock finally ran out on the resulting legal process.
Gardner fought the execution to the very end, his plea for executive clemency (backed by some of the jurors who doomed him, and by some relatives of the murder victim himself who claim that Michael Burdell opposed the death penalty) falling on predictably deaf ears just a few days ago.
But Gardner did volunteer, if he had to die, to die that headline-grabbing, reminiscent-of-Gary-Gilmore death at the business end of an anonymous five-man team of marksmen.
With the execution of that procedure minutes after midnight today, Gardner became the first U.S. prisoner executed by firing squad since John Albert Taylor in 1996. He might ultimately be the last ever … though a few inmates still residing on Utah’s death row might yet supplant him.
On this date in 1939, French murderer Eugen Weidmann dropped his head in the basket outside a prison in Versailles. France’s signal history of public beheadings died along with him.
The career criminal Weidmann knocked around prison in his twenties.
Further to the maxim that penitentiaries are the school of crime, Weidmann’s stint for robbery connected him right up with a couple of accomplices who started up a kidnapping-robbery-murder ring when they got out.
They left several bodies (and miles of newspaper copy) in their wake in late 1937 before the inevitable capture, confession, condemnation. (Weidmann’s accomplices all managed to avoid the chop.)
The beheading this day did not come off well; a massive crowd* jostled for a view, a scene belied by the tame crowd photo of the execution’s official witnesses.
Two photographs of Eugen Weidmann’s execution in Versailles 17 June 1939. (Click for larger images.)
Still photos of the guillotine had been snapped for years, but a delay putting justice into its heavy downward-crashing motion that morning meant the execution took place in plenty of light for an illicit moving picture.
Caution: Mature content. This is video of the guillotine in action.
From the time this film cut, France’s national razor would do its cutting only behind prison walls. It would be another 38 years yet before it trimmed its last client.
On this date in 1979, former Ghanaian military strongman Ignatius Kutu Acheampong was shot in the aftermath of Jerry Rawlings’ successful coup d’etat.
Acheampong had executed a coup of his own in 1972 and run the unsteady West African state for most of the 1970s — a period of economic and political crisis — until he himself was toppled by another General, Fred Akuffo.
Acheampong was retired to his home village by the new regime, but he would not enjoy such satisfactory treatment when a national revolution ended Akuffo’s reign and brought junior officer Jerry Rawlings to power.
Less than two weeks after Rawlings was installed as Ghana’s new head of state, Acheampong was executed on a charge of corruption. This would not sate the considerable popular anger at the outgoing military clique, which went on to gorge itself on Akuffo and five others later that same month.
As the proper captain of an Italian city-state in the 15th century, Trinci had taken a few spins around the wheel of fortune in battle with his neighbors. He kicked off his reign in operatically sanguinary style when a neighboring town‘s castellan murdered Trinci’s brothers, suspecting one of them of adultery with his wife. Trinci revenged himself by sacking Nocera Umbra, which still holds a civic relay race (Italian link) commemorating the occasion.
Trinci didn’t fare as well when it came to picking on someone his own size.
For the next generation, Trinci would do the Machiavellian dance characteristic of his time and station — by turns allied with, at war with, or plotting with the papacy, CondottieroFrancesco Sforza, the archbishop of Florence, and miscellaneous other peninsular neighbors and rivals. He was down. He was back up. He was beaten. He fought back. Etc.
Trinci pushed the wheel of fortune one turn too far by rebelling (again) against papal authority in the mid-1430s. His march on the Vatican-controlled Duchy of Spoleto was an initial success —
Corrado brought to Foligno four hundred youths of Spoleto, the standard of Spoleto, the chains, the locks from the city gates, the seal, and the clapper from the great bell of the commune.
That was in 1436. By 1439, Foligno itself (with Trinci inside it) had capitulated to a papal siege. Spoleto really wanted its clapper back.
Trinci was imprisoned with his family, and after a couple years’ languishing, put to death on this date. While both the English and Italian Wikipedia entries currently assert that he was strangled, the principal source for this gentleman’s biography, the freely-available Istoria della Famiglia Trinci by Durante Dorio, flatly asserts that the washed-up brawler was dispatched by decapitato.
By whatever method Corrado laid down his life, he retired with it not only the fame of his family but its Lordship of Foligno. The title fell extinct: Foligno became part of the Papal States and remain so right up to Italy’s 19th century unification.
* When next in central Italy, be sure to visit the lovely Palazzo Trinci. Corrado commissioned the Ottaviano Nelli frescoes in the chapel.
Inscription on a marker on the road from Kirkintilloch to Kilsyth* in Scotland:
In this field lies the corpse of John Wharry and James Smith, who suffered in Glasgow, 13 June 1683, for their adherence to the Word of God, and Scotland’s Covenanted Work of Reformation: ‘And they overcame them by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto the death'” (Rev. xii. 11)
Halt, courteous passenger, and look on
Our bodies dead, & lying under this stone.
Altho’ we did commit no deed,** nor fact
That was against the Bridegroom’s contract,
Yet we to Glasgow were as prisoners brought,
And against us false witness they sought.
Their sentence cruel and unjust they past,
And then our corps on scaffold they did cast.
There we our lives and right hands also lost.
From Glasgow we were brought unto this place
In chains of iron hung up for certain space.
Then taken down interred here we ly–
From ‘neath this stone our blood to heaven doth cry.
Had foreign foes, Turks, or Mahometans,
Had Scythians, Tartars, Arabian Caravans,
Had cruel Spaniards, the Pope’s blood seed,
Commenced the same, less strange had been the deed;
But Protestants, profest our Covenants to,
Our countrymen, this bloody deed could do.
Yet notwithstanding of their hellish rage
The noble Wharry stepping on the stage
With courage bold and with a heart not faint,
Exclaims, This blood now seals our covenant–
Ending, They who would follow Christ should take
Their cross upon their back, the world forsake.
The probability is, that what is called on the new stone “the old tombstone” is not much older than this [the 19th] century, and that it is the successor of an older one on which may have been inscribed the following epitaph:
Halt, passenger, read here upon this stone
A tragedy, our bodies done upon.
At Glasgow Cross we lost both our right hands,
To fright beholders, th’ enemy so commands;
Then put to death, and that most cruelly.
Yet where we’re slain, even there we must not lie,
From Glasgow town we’re brought unto this place,
On Gallow tree hung up for certain space.
Yet thence ta’en down, interred here we lie
Beneath this stone; our blood to heaven doth cry.
Had foreign foes, Turks or Mahometans,
Had Scythian Tartars, Arabian caravans,
Had cruel Spaniards, the Pope’s bloody seed,
Commenc’d the same, had been less strange their deed.
But Protestants, once Covenanters too,
Our countrymen, this cruel deed could do:
Yet, notwithstanding this, their hellish rage,
The noble Wharrie leapt upon the stage.
With courage bold, he said, and heart not faint,
‘This blood shall now seal up our covenant,’
Ending, ‘they who would follow Christ, should take
‘Their cross upon their back, the world forsake.'”
General Valle was shouldered out for his affiliations with the former regime: throughout the months following the coup, the Peron party was systematically proscribed and its leaders barred from politics.
In exile, Peron urged radical action by these disenfranchised followers, and Valle attempted to mount a revolt in June 1956.*
This operation was well-scouted by the government, and crushed instantly — with a couple dozen of its adherents summarily shot. (Spanish link)
Well, the Peronist party slogan was, “Our Lives for Peron.”
Valle avoided the initial slaughter, but he was captured in an apartment in Buenos Aires on this date and shot at the city’s National Penitentiary in the evening.
“Shot for trying to overthrow the government” doesn’t quite sound off the scale of typical coup outcomes, but in Buenos Aires in 1956, these executions were shockingly disproportionate relative to the handling of many recent unsuccessful coups. Actually, the Aramburu government had just that February repealed the death penalty as a statutory option for plotting a coup.
But it wasn’t using statutes to handle the Valle coup: it declared martial law, and handled subversives at its own discretion. (It rescinded martial law and ceased any further executions on June 13.)
The authorities’ brutal response was something of a turning point in Argentine political relations and culture. Throughout the Peronist decade even the harshest critics of the regime could not accuse it of executions of this sort, even though coups had been attempted against it. Bloodshed on this scale for political reasons was unprecedented in the political and military history of Argentina.
Aramburu himself would catch a bit of the blowback for authoring this “turning point”: in 1970, the former president was kidnapped (Spanish-language site) by the pro-Peron Montoneros guerrillas and himself summarily executed shortly thereafter — allegedly in specific retaliation for having shot Gen. Juan Jose Valle.
And the literary fallout was hardly more complimentary. Argentine writer Felix Luna penned La Fusilacion (The Firing Squad) the next year;** set during Argentina’s 19th century civil wars, it’s plainly informed by that country’s more contemporaneous problems.
* Valle’s top co-conspirator was another general, Raul Tanco. In a strange coda, Tanco managed to escape execution by claiming asylum in the Haitian embassy. Pro-government gunmen kidnapped him from that refuge and turned him over to the army, but in a gesture of diplomatic courtesy, Aramburu returned Tanco to the embassy unharmed, with apologies to the Haitians for the breach of decorum.
Botak Chin, real name Wong Swee Chin, was one of Malaysia’s most wanted criminals.
His first taste of the underworld was when he joined Gang 306, participating in his first armed robbery in April 19, 1969. He was caught once and sentenced to seven years in jail after committing eight robberies.
When he got out, he did try to make a decent living as a vegetable trader but found the earnings to be pitiful. He eventually went on to form his own gang with Ng Cheng Wong, Beh Kok Chin and Teh Bok Lay — robbing banks, running illegal gambling dens and initiating gang wars (with the Lima Jari Gunung gang).
It all went downhill for Botak Chin when they tried to assassinate assistant police commissioner S. Kulasingam, and failed. His attempt spurred the formation of The Dirty Dozen: 12 policemen who established a force to specifically capture Botak Chin. This lead to his arrest in February 1976 after a shoot-out where he was shot six times but survived.
Thrown into Pudu Jail under the Internal Security Act, he attempted escape in 1981 but failed. He was finally hung to death on 11 June 1981.