Posts filed under 'Execution'

1312: Piers Gaveston

3 comments June 19th, 2010 Headsman

On this date in 1312, Edward II’s dearest friend Piers Gaveston was “executed” by the English nobility that had long despised him.

The “notorious royal favourite” had initially been welcomed by Edward I around 1300 as a royal companion for the crown prince.

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.

* Not universally accepted, however.

** Bonus: Nineteen things you never knew about Piers Gaveston.

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Entry Filed under: 14th Century,Arts and Literature,Beheaded,Borderline "Executions",Disfavored Minorities,England,Execution,Famous,History,Homosexuals,No Formal Charge,Nobility,Politicians,Power,Put to the Sword,The Worm Turns

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2010: Ronnie Lee Gardner, by musketry

5 comments June 18th, 2010 Headsman

A few hours ago as of this writing, the U.S. state of Utah put Ronnie Lee Gardner to death by firing squad, a method so vintage that its constitutionality was challenged in the 19th century.

He’d spent a lifetime in the clutches of various state institutions, and shot a lawyer dead in an audacious attempt to break out of a Salt Lake City courthouse while shackled.

That happened way back in 1985.

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.

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1939: Eugen Weidmann, the last public beheading in France

11 comments June 17th, 2010 Headsman

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.)

The government immediately banned public executions. Although it wouldn’t be the government much longer, the change stuck.

But the crowd scene wasn’t the half of it.

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.

* According to his biography, British horror actor Christopher Lee — age 17 — was in the crowd.

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1979: Ignatius Kutu Acheampong, former dictator of Ghana

2 comments June 16th, 2010 Headsman

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.

NFL defensive back Charlie Peprah is Acheampong’s grandson.

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1441: Corrado Trinci, Lord of Foligno

1 comment June 14th, 2010 Headsman

On this date in 1441, Corrado Trinci was executed in Foligno.

Once the hereditary lord of that venerable town,* Trinci (English Wikipedia page | Italian), had turned tetchy with his Guelph family’s onetime papal patrons and suffered the consequences.

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, Condottiero Francesco 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.

-Durante Dorio, as quoted and translated by Sergio Bertelli

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.


(cc) image from http://www.flickr.com/photos/bramhall/3566795885/

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1683: James Smith and John Wharry, Covenanter bystanders

2 comments June 13th, 2010 Headsman

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.


Image (c) Maria ‘Mia’ Gaellman | http://www.mariaphoto.co.uk/

The epitaph above is from this Victorian text, which further observes:

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.'”

* Kilsyth lays claim to be the birthplace of curling.

** Smith and Wharrie, apparently uninvolved civilians, were seized as the nearest available guys to punish after a Covenanter guerrilla attack near Inchbelly Bridge.

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1956: Juan Jose Valle, Peronist putschist

Add comment June 12th, 2010 Headsman

On this date in 1956, the Argentine military junta crushed a Peronist revolt with the summary execution of its leader, Juan Jose Valle.

Gen. Pedro Eugenio Aramburu had overthrown the populist Juan Peron government in 1955, and now ruled Argentina as President.

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.

-Politics and Education in 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.

** It’s also a 1962 movie.

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1981: Botak Chin, gangster

1 comment June 11th, 2010 Sarah Chan

(Thanks to Sarah Chan for the guest post, originally published last year as part of a longer article in Klue, 5 Most Infamous Pudu Jail Inmates. -ed.)

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.

A movie on his life was in production, directed by Dain Said (who also directed Dukun, about Mona Fandey). No updates on how that’s going …

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1692: Bridget Bishop, the first Salem witch hanging

3 comments June 10th, 2010 Headsman

On this date in 1692, the pious folk of Salem, Mass., hanged their first witch.

Local bawd Bridget Bishop, pushing 60 and onto her third husband, was a natural target for the emergent civic insanity.

She liked living it up down at the tavern with a red bodice and the occasional game of shuffleboard. When she entered the courtroom, all the little brats with the sorcery stories (strangers to the accused before all this started) fell down and howled. When the Salem goodwives were tasked with groping her for bodily disfigurements that might be a witches’ mark, they

discovered a preternathurall Excresence of flesh between the pudendum and Anus much like to Tetts & not usuall in women

Bishop was obstinate in repelling the charges against her, even uppity enough to question her persecutors’ categorical assumptions.

I am innocent I know nothing of it I am no witch I know not what a witch is.

(Both the above excerpts can be found in the proceedings against Bishop — and other witchcraft defendants — lodged here.)

The local respectable citizens certainly weren’t about to entertain any wisecracking about the whole “witch” construct from the likes of Bishop. (She’d already been accused once before, in 1680.) In Puritan Bible-basher Cotton Mather’s embarrassing 1693 defense of the proceedings, he’s got Bishop’s WMDsdaemonic influences confidently sussed out.

There was little Occasion to prove the Witchcraft, it being Evident and Notorious to all Beholders. Now to fix the Witchcraft on the Prisoner at the Bar, the first thing used, was the Testimony of the Bewitched; whereof several Testify’d, That the Shape of the Prisoner did oftentimes very grievously pinch them, choak them, Bite them, and Afflict them; urging them to write their Names in a Book, which the said Spectre called, Ours. One of them did further Testify, that it was the Shape of this Prisoner, with another, which one Day took her from her Wheel, and carrying her to the River side, threatned there to Drown her, if she did not Sign to the Book mentioned: which yet she refused. Others of them did also Testify, that the said Shape did in her Threats brag to them that she had been the Death of sundry persons, then by her Named; that she had Ridden a man then likewise Named. Another Testify’d the Apparition of Ghosts unto the Spectre of Bishop, crying out, You Murdered us! About the Truth whereof, there was in the matter of Fact but too much Suspicion.

With this kind of slam-dunk evidence, Puritan New England wasn’t the sort of place to suffer a condemned enchantress a lot of dilatory appeals. Victims demanded closure, and two days after Bridget Bishop heard her sentence, she was strung up at Salem’s aptly named Gallows Hill.

There is at this point in the timeline of the Salem hysteria a slight pause in the proceedings as, having crossed the Rubicon and actually begun stretching necks, colonial elites consulted one another as regards the unfolding tragedy (and in the case of one of the judges, resigned).

The remainder finding themselves still committed to the crazy, Salem fired up its witch trials in earnest at the end of the month and greased the hanging rope for 18 more noosings, plus the nasty pressing to death of Giles Corey, over the months ahead.

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1716: Banda Singh Bahadur

2 comments June 9th, 2010 Headsman

On this date in 1716, legendary Sikh warrior Banda Singh Bahadur attained his martyrdom.

Born Lakshman Dev, the man who would become Banda Bahadur went on a spiritual wandering jag as a young man and chanced to be plucked out of hermitage by Sikh guru Gobind Singh.

When this guru’s efforts to make inroads for Sikh interests with the new Mughal Emperor Bahadur Shah foundered, the converted hermit (now returned to the martial exercises of his caste) was tasked with a punitive expedition against one of the more obnoxious governors.

The zealous general did his mentor one better, attracting thousands of sympathetic followers and carving out a Sikh kingdom in Punjab in the early 1710s.

This proto-state (forerunner of an actual state in the next century) was in due time outmuscled by the Mughals, capturing the rebels’ last redoubt by means of a perfidious assurance of leniency that would not be forthcoming. Not at all.

The captured were marched back to Delhi, along with the pike-mounted heads of their fallen comrades, and there subjected to grisly mass executions.

British diplomats making nice with the Mughal court at the time recorded the scene.

The great rebel Guru (Bandu, the Sikh) who has been for these twenty years so troublesome in the province of Lahore, is at length taken with all his family and attendance by the Subahdar, or Viceroy, of that province. Some days ago they entered the city laden with fetters, his whole attendants which were left alive being about 780,* all severally mounted on camels, which were sent out of the city for that purpose, besides about 2,000 heads stuck upon poles, being those who died by the sword inb attle. He was carried into the presence of the King, and from thence to a close prison. He at present has his life prolonged with most of his officers, in hopes to get an account of his treasure in several parts of his kingdom, and of those that assisted him, when afterwards he will be executed for the rest. There are one hundred each day beheaded. It is not a little remarkable with what patience they undergo their fate, and to the last it has not been found that one has apostatised from the new formed religion.

Their captain’s turn finally came this date when — spurning conversion to Islam, as had his fellows — he saw his son slaughtered before his eyes, then was hacked limb from limb.

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