Posts filed under 'Execution'

1890: Major Panitza, by Stefan Stambolov

Add comment June 28th, 2010 Headsman

Sophia, June 28, 1890

With reference to my telegram of this day’s date, I have the honour to report that this morning Major Panitza was conducted from his place of confinement in town to the camp of Bali Effendi, close to Sophia, where the troops are quartered for the summer, and in presence of the whole brigade drawn up in military file he was shot by a peloton of twenty-four soldiers.

Major Panitza fell uttering the cry, “Long live Bulgaria.”

After the execution, Major Marinoff, the Commandant of the Sophia garrison, addressed a short speech to the troops, in which he said that Major Panitza had met his death in just punishment for treason against his Prince and country, and that a similar fate would be dealt out to whosoever should prove a traitor to the interests of the Fatherland.

The troops maintained a perfectly impassive attitude throughout the proceedings, and the execution of the condemned in the presence of the garrison shows that the Government wished to make an example which should be a warning to the officers to refrain from the political intrigues that had during the last few years become so prevalent, and that were dangerously undermining the discipline and loyalty of the army.

-British and foreign state papers, vol. 83

Having recently gained independence by backing its Slavic brethren against its longtime Ottoman master in the Russo-Turkish War, Bulgaria was enjoying all the perquisites of being a minor power pressed between major powers.

The leading concern of its able, authoritarian, and justifiably paranoid leader* Stefan Stambolov — “the only Prime Minister in Europe who receives his visitors with a revolver lying next to the ink-stand on his desk,” in the New York Times’ description — was the interest of Bulgaria’s “benefactors” in St. Petersburg in turning this breakaway Ottoman province into an ever more pliant Russian instrument.

Whether it was the coreligionists or their coin who inspired it, many in Bulgaria felt sincere loyalty to Russia; in an age of empires, it wouldn’t have been unreasonable statecraft to opt for the security of dependency.

With that object in mind, Major Panitza hatched a dangerous plot to overturn the Bulgarian government. His plot conjured an equally dangerous reprisal from Stambolov — who was determined to keep as much independence as Bulgaria could sustain.

Despite fairly widespread sympathy in the army and the populace for Panitza’s plot, and of course in the face of entreaties of Russia, Stambolov had the execution carried out with impolitic dispatch just weeks after the court-martial did its work.**

Many outside of Bulgaria saw statesmanlike quality in Stambolov, but his severe rule exemplified by his unpopular ruthlessness towards Major Panitza made him many enemies at home. Stambolov was himself assassinated shortly after resigning from government in 1895, and his corpse abused en route to its resting place.

* Generally transliterated “Stambouloff” or “Stambuloff” during his own lifetime, this gentleman got control of the state by mounting a counter-coup against a Russian putsch. Since the Russians still succeeded in definitively dethroning the sitting Bulgarian king, Stambolov’s hand alone guided the unsteady Bulgarian ship of state for a time.

Stambolov eventually installed an Austro-Hungarian noble as Prince Ferdinand I (the two came to hate each other). Later titled “tsar”, Ferdinand was the grandfather of Simeon II, who achieved the unusual distinction of becoming Prime Minister of Bulgaria through democratic election in 2001.

** Panitza’s co-conspirators got various prison terms, including the former Commandant of the Sofia garrison, a gentleman sporting the Strangelovian moniker Lieutenant-Colonel Kissoff.

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1497: Michael An Gof and Thomas Flamank, leaders of the Cornish Rebellion

1 comment June 27th, 2010 Headsman

On this date* in 1497, two commoners who led an uprising against the Tudor dynasty were hanged at Tyburn.

Sore about a tax hike imposed to fight a Scots army supporting pretender Perkin Warbeck, Cornwall rose against Henry VII early in 1497.

“Henry Tudor’s” legitimacy on an English throne he had recently conquered was still a bit shaky, which is why he had to worry about pretenders to begin with (and also why his son would become so infamous looking for heirs).

Despite disappointingly finding no help for their cause in oft-rebellious Kent, the Cornish men decided to go it alone.


A statue of Michael Joseph An Gof and Thomas Flamank. Image (c) John Durrant and used with permission.

Under the leadership of blacksmith Michael Joseph (or Michael An Gof; An Gof simply translates as the man’s profession) and barrister Thomas Flamank (or Flammock) — injudiciously joined by one Lord Audley** — 15,000 or so marched to the outskirts of London, where they were trounced in the Battle of Deptford Bridge.

As commoners, Joseph and Flamank were condemned to the barbarous hanging-drawing-quartering death, but Henry commuted it to simple hanging with posthumous dismembering lest the popular leaders’ public torture spark fresh trouble in their native stomping-grounds. (Michael Joseph prophesied that posterity would confer upon these martyrs “a name perpetual and a fame permanent and immortal.” The authorities still did the dismembering bits, only posthumously, and put the heads up on pikes.)

After all, the fact that these troublemakers had marched right up to London before anyone had opposed them underscored Henry’s own potential vulnerability. Even the noble that Henry sent out to whip the marchers might have had one finger to the wind before deciding which side would be the winner.

As events would prove, the king was right to worry.

First as tragedy, then as farce

Seeing how much latent disaffection had been readily converted to action in Cornwall, Perkin Warbeck decided to make his big move later that same year in 1497 by landing there near Land’s End.

A few thousand joined the ensuing Second Cornish Uprising, but it came to much the same end — and resulted, this time, in Warbeck’s own capture and eventual execution.

* Some Wikipedia articles assert June 24, but June 27 seems attested by better authorities. I have not been able to pin down primary documentation proving either date, but the maintenance of June 27th as “An Gof Day” disposes the case. (There was a big 500th anniversary march for the occasion in 1997.) Claims that all three were executed on June 28 appear to be simply mistaken.

** As a peer, Audley got the chop instead of the hemp: he was beheaded on June 28. The rank-and-file were generally pardoned.

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1885: James Arcene, the youngest juvenile offender hanged in the US?

2 comments June 26th, 2010 Headsman

(Thanks to Caitlin at Vast Public Indifference for the guest post -ed.)

On June 26, 1885, two Cherokee men — James Arcene and William Parchmeal — were hanged at Fort Smith, Arkansas. Moments before their deaths, both men made statements, though it is unlikely that their last words were intelligible to many witnesses at the military outpost, owing to the heavy rain and the fact that Parchmeal spoke little English.* Under the eye of Federal Judge Isaac Parker, the notorious “Hanging Judge” of the old Southwest, Arcene and Parchmeal had their limbs bound and their faces covered before being “launched into eternity.”**

In February, Arcene and Parchmeal had been convicted of a murder committed 13 years previously. On November 25, 1872, someone had killed a Swedish immigrant named Henry Feigel on the road near Fort Gibson in Indian Territory (now Oklahoma). The case remained unsolved for over a decade.

In 1884, 12 years after Feigel’s death, a U.S. Deputy Marshall named Andrews arrested Arcene and Parchmeal in connection with the murder. Though documents describing the evidence used to obtain the arrest warrant are not readily available, Andrews was able to convince a judge (probably the same Judge Parker who presided over the trial) that the trail had not gone cold after so many years. Arcene “denied having knowledge of the killing,” but Parchmeal made a statement through an interpreter “admitting being present, but said that he was there under duress and that Arcine did the killing.”†

After both men were convicted, Arcene made a confession stating that he had “shot [Feigel] six times, then both took rocks and mashed the man’s head” before dragging him off the road and robbing him of his boots and 25 cents. Judge Parker sentenced both men to hang.

At first glance, there is little to distinguish this case from the 77 other executions presided over by Judge Parker during his tenure at Fort Smith.‡ Parker had been appointed to the bench in the hope that he would make Indian Territory feel the full might of the federal government, and he did not disappoint. According to one chronicler of the Fort Smith court under Judge Parker,

“Tried, found guilty as charged, sentenced,” was the tale repeated until the mere fact of arrest meant almost certain conviction. The sentence “To die on the gallows” was passed upon more men here than anywhere in history. So numerous were the executions [Parker] ordered and so commonplace the thunderous crash of the gallows trap that street urchins playing outside the old walls would gleefully shout: “There goes another man to hell with his boots on!”

- Glenn Shirley, Law West of Fort Smith: A History of Frontier Justice In The Indian Territory, 1834-1896 (1957), 79.

But this execution was peculiar in one significant detail: James Arcene claimed to have been “only a boy [about] 10 or 12 years old” at the time of the murder.† If true, he was one of the youngest criminals in American history to have his crime punished by a federally-sanctioned execution.

It is difficult to verify James Arcene’s age with any degree of certainty. Census records for Indian Territory in the 1870s and 1880s are spotty at best, and few other vital records survive. It is possible that Arcene may have hoped to obtain a pardon by falsely pleading youth, but he did not revise his statement, even when it became apparent that it would do him no good. We may never know how old James Arcene really was — all we can know is that he claimed to have been a child in 1872 and that Judge Parker ignored this information and sentenced the adult who stood before him.§

If James Arcene was a juvenile offender, he looked very much like the other children and adolescents executed in the United States since the era of the American Revolution. Those offenders executed for crimes committed before the age of 18 have disproportionately been African American, Native American, or Hispanic teenagers who have committed crimes against white victims. This is true of the 20th century as well as the 19th: of the 22 juvenile offenders executed for murder in the US between 1976 and 2004, 77% had killed a white victim, though only 50% of homicides perpetrated by juvenile offenders involved a white victim. As of 2004, 9 of the last 10 juvenile offenders executed in Texas, the state responsible for 59% of all juvenile executions, were black or Hispanic. (Figures from the Death Penalty Information Center.)

In March of 2005, the Supreme Court handed down a 5-4 ruling in Roper v. Simmons declaring that states could no longer execute criminals who had committed their crimes while under the age of 18.

* See “Murder for Money,” Daily Arkansas Gazette, 27 June 1885 on rain, and “Hanged on the Gallows,” New York Times, 27 June 1885 on Parchmeal’s need for an interpreter.

** “Murder for Money,” Daily Arkansas Gazette, 27 June 1885.

† “Hanged on the Gallows,” New York Times, 27 June 1885.

‡ Judge Parker sentenced 156 men and 4 women to death. Of these, 79 were actually executed, the rest having died in prison, had their sentences commuted, or were pardoned.

§ It should be noted that many books make the erroneous claim that Arcene was 10 at the time of his execution. This is not the case — all available primary documents agree that he was an adult in 1885. I made this same mistake in my earlier guest post on the case of Hannah Ocuish, having relied on Dean J. Champion’s The American Dictionary of Criminal Justice: Key Terms and Major Court Cases (2005).

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1591: Euphane MacCalzean, witch

5 comments June 25th, 2010 Headsman

If there’s one thing King James VI of Scotland (eventually to also become James I of England) worried a lot about, it was witches.

The Al Qaeda of the 16th century imagination, those shadowy yet omnipresent necromancers were especially feared around this time for their powers of supernatural mayhem, and you can take your pick on the phenomenon’s psychosocial explanation. (It was hardly limited to Scotland.)

Whatever it was, King James had it in spades.

The son of one executed monarch and father of another, James kept head tightly fixed to shoulders all his own days, and he used it to write the (well, a) book on witch-hunting.

THE fearefull aboundinge at this time in this countrie, of these detestable slaues of the Deuill, the Witches or enchaunters, hath moved me (beloued reader) to dispatch in post, this following treatise of mine, not in any wise (as I protest) to serue for a shew of my learning & ingine, but onely (mooued of conscience) to preasse / thereby, so farre as I can, to resolue the doubting harts of many; both that such assaultes of Sathan are most certainly practized, & that the instrumentes thereof, merits most severly to be punished: against the damnable opinions … not ashamed in publike print to deny, that ther can be such a thing as Witch-craft.

-Daemonologie

You couldn’t fault the guy for a lot of daylight between his principles and his practices.


With a deft political touch, Shakespeare wrote Macbeth after James ascended the English throne as James I.

In 1589, Jamie sailed to Denmark to wed a Danish princess. When ferocious storms nearly wrecked the royal convoy on its return trip, there was only one possible explanation: witchcraft. And security theater for 16th century Scotland wasn’t taking your shoes off when ferrying across the nearby loch — it was publicly burning human beings to death for consorting with the devil.

So once the king made it back home, he initiated the North Berwick Witch Trials, the first notable witch-hunt of his reign.

It was what you’d expect. Seventy people accused, the doomed tortured into confessions like Jack Bauer would do, and a respectable harvest of souls, most famously (because interrogated by the king himself) Agnes Sampson. “Most of the winter of 1591,” writes one chronicler, “was spent in the discovery and examination of witches and sorcerers.”

Our day’s principal, whose name has various different renderings (such as Eufame Mackalzeane), was the last to suffer for some months.

Euphan McCalzeane was a lady possessed of a considerable estate in her own right. She was the daughter of Thomas McCalzeane, lord Cliftenhall, one of the senators of the college of justice, whose death in the year 1581 spared him the disgrace and misery of seeing his daughter fall by the hands of the executioner. She was married to a gentleman of her own name, by whom she had three children. She was accused of treasonably conspiring of the king; of raising storms to hinder his return from Denmark; and of various other articles of witchcraft. She was heard by counsel in her defense; was found guilty by the jury, which consisted of landed gentlemen of note; and her punishment was still severer than that commonly inflicted on the weyward sisters; she was burned alive, and her estate confiscated. Her children, however, after being thus barbarously robbed of their mother, were restored by act of parliament against the forfeiture. The act does not say that the sentence was unjust, but that the king was touched in honour and conscience to restore the children. But to move the wheels of his majesty’s conscience, the children had to grease them, by a payment of five thousand merks to the donator of escheat, and by relinquishing the estate of Cliftonhall, which the king gave to sir James Sandilands, of Slamanno.

As a striking picture of the state of justice, humanity, and science, in those times, it may be remarked, that this sir James Sandilands, a favourite of the king’s, ex interiore principis familiaritate, who got this estate, which the daughter of one lord of session forfeited, on account of being a witch, did that very year murder another lord of session in the suburbs of Edinburgh, in the public street, without undergoing either trial or punishment. (Source

Like any number of other executed “witches,” this one professed innocence at the scaffold.

Before she was strangled and burnt, the poor woman “tooke it on her conscience that she was innocent of all the crymes layed to her charge.”

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1908: Two Persian constitutionalists

Add comment June 24th, 2010 Headsman

TEHERAN, June 24.

Two of the Nationalist leaders, Malik-Mutikalamin and Mannchir Khan, were hanged in the Royal camp to-day. Anxiety is felt regarding the fate of the others, including the President, notwithstanding the verbal promise of the Shah to spare their lives.

The house of Zahir-ed-Dowleh, now Governor of Resht, has been bombarded and looted. A state of terrorism exists.

Troops are guarding the approaches to the British Legation, with orders to shoot fugitives seeking sanctuary there.

-London Times, June 25, 1908

On this date, two Persian constitionalist liberals were summarily hanged by the Shah as two factions fought for the future of Iran.

A Constitutional Revolution was shaking that country’s ruling dynasty when the throne passed and the new Shah, Mohammad Ali Shah Qajar, mounted a coup dissolving the newborn parliament and reversing as un-Islamic the country’s 1906 constitution. (According to the Shah, constitutionalism was un-Islamic.)

On June 23, the Shah’s Cossacks — he had Russian support, arranged with the connivance of other European powers — bombarded Iran’s parliament, capturing in the process a number of constitutional delegates.

Two in particular, both of them prominent Azali Bab’i exponents of the constitution, would interest the Shah.

Mirza Jahangir Khan (left), and Malek al-Motakallemin.

Journalist, revolutionary, and intellectual Mirza Jahangir Khan Shirazi was a well-known spokesperson of the reformist cause through his paper Sur-e Esrafil. Malek al-Motakallemin was a dissident essayist and preacher with an interest in Persia’s Zoroastrian ancient history.

Their hanging this day calmed the capital for the moment, but hardly settled matters in Iran. (Indeed, one could say matters have never been settled in Iran.) By the next year, Mohammad Ali Shah Qajar was out on his ear (he’d die in exile) — succeeded by the last monarch of the Qajar dynasty.

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1989: Sean Patrick Flanagan, self-hating gay man

8 comments June 23rd, 2010 Headsman

On this date in 1989, Sean Patrick Flanagan was executed for murdering two gay men in Nevada.

The ex-Marine been picked up for jaywalking in California, when he went and confessed to the slightly more problematic offense of murder. This is why you should never say anything to police when arrested.

But Flanagan had a whole confessional, expiation thing going on. Besides admitting to strangling two older men with “the thought that I would be doing some good for our society,” he dropped his appeals and volunteered for execution.

I’m just as wicked and nasty as Ted Bundy. I believe if I had not been arrested, I would have ended up being another Ted Bundy against homosexuals.

-Flanagan

As is so often the case, the hatred that drove Flanagan to murder was actually directed inward — since the killer himself was also gay. Characterizing his own execution as “proper and just” and staying nose-deep in the Bible until injection time was all part of his uncertain journey of redeeming or defining or accepting himself.

The subsequent headlines were all about how Flanagan checked out of this world telling prosecutor and execution witness Dan Seaton, “I love you.”

“‘He means it in terms of Christian love and forgiveness,” Seaton explained later. No gay stuff.

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1669: Roux de Marsilly, employer of the Man in the Iron Mask?

4 comments June 22nd, 2010 Headsman

On this date in 1669, a French Huguenot agent was publicly broken on the wheel in Paris.

On the dangerous political chessboard of 17th century Europe, the allegiance of Restoration England — governed once again by a dynasty with known Catholic sympathies — was a great prize for contending Catholic and Protestant powers on the mainland.*

While Charles II of England and the Catholic Louis XIV of France maneuvered towards a secret accord that would lead to devastating war against the Protestant Netherlands, Roux de Marsilly was busy in London trying to enlist England into a Protestant alliance against France.

Finding the avenues blocked, Marsilly retired to Switzerland and was there abducted by French spies who knew what he was up to.

A trumped-up rape charge served that country’s statecraft, and despite an offer by the prisoner to spill some beans in exchange for his life — and then a suicide attempt —

hee wounded himself … for he knew before hee should dye, butt he thought by dismembering himself that the losse of blood would carry him out of the world …

— Roux could not avoid his fate. In fact, out of fear that Marsilly could still succumb to his self-injury, they

sent word … which made his execution be hastened. Saturday about 1 of the clock he was brought on the skaffold before the Chastelet and tied to St. Andrew’s Crosse all which was while he acted the Dying man and scarce stirred, and seemed almost breathless and fainting …

they went to their worke and gave [Marsilly] eleven blows with a barre and laid him on the wheele. He was two houres dying.

(Both quotes above from this correspondence.)

For all those two agonizing hours, Roux de Marsilly really only merits a footnote in a different story.

The Man in the Iron Mask

The mysterious Man in the Iron Mask was first documented in French custody later in the summer of 1669, and he would remain a guest of the Bourbon dungeons until 1703.

The identify of this person — or maybe persons, since it’s been argued that there are multiple threads conflated into the one legend — has never been conclusively established, much to the profit of literature.

One of the stronger contenders for the crownmask, however, is a prisoner named “Eustace Dauger”, who may in fact have been Roux de Marsilly’s former valet, one “Martin”.

The case for Martin-as-Dauger-as-masked-man is made most comprehensively by Andrew Lang in The Valet’s Tragedy and Other Stories.

The hypothesis, roughly outlined, is that England and especially France were trying to tie up the loose ends of whatever plots Marsilly had authored, and got hands on his servant to interrogate him about the highly sensitive machinations he might have been privy to.

Possibly having established that Martin/Eustace had no actual information to betray, he still remained under lock and key out of some admixture of bureaucratic inertia and the remorseless paranoia of the security state. Crazy.

[T]he Man in the Iron Mask (if Dauger were he) may have been as great a mystery to himself as to historical inquirers. He may not have known WHAT he was imprisoned for doing! More important is the probable conclusion that the long and mysterious captivity of Eustache Dauger, and of another perfectly harmless valet and victim, was the mere automatic result of the ‘red tape’ of the old French absolute monarchy. These wretches were caught in the toils of the system, and suffered to no purpose, for no crime. The two men, at least Dauger, were apparently mere supernumeraries in the obscure intrigue of a conspirator known as Roux de Marsilly.

Marsilly was publicly tortured to death in Paris on June 22, 1669. By July 19 his ex-valet, Dauger, had entered on his mysterious term of captivity. How the French got possession of him, whether he yielded to cajolery, or was betrayed by Charles II., is uncertain. … By July 19, at all events, Louvois, the War Minister of Louis XIV., was bidding Saint-Mars, at Pignerol in Piedmont, expect from Dunkirk a prisoner of the very highest importance–a valet! This valet, now called ‘Eustache Dauger,’ can only have been Marsilly’s valet, Martin, who, by one means or another, had been brought from England to Dunkirk. It is hardly conceivable, at least, that when a valet, in England, is ‘wanted’ by the French police on July 1, for political reasons, and when by July 19 they have caught a valet of extreme political importance, the two valets should be two different men. Martin must be Dauger.

* And, of course, for the Catholics and Protestants in England. This struggle would come to a head in due time, to the grief of the Stuarts.

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1734: Marie-Joseph Angélique, for burning Montreal

1 comment June 21st, 2010 Headsman

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.)

Nobody died in the fire, but conflagrations were deadly serious back in the bucket brigade era.

The sentence

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 …

And so she was.

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.

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1940: Tirailleurs Senegalais, for France

8 comments June 20th, 2010 Headsman

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.

In 1940, black troops represented some 9% of the French army, a fact pilloried in German nationalist proaganda.

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.

On the other hand, French authorities put up a monument to black soldiers in the aftermath of World War I. (The occupying Nazis vengefully dismantled it.) Such are the contradictions of colonialism.

Racial reservations notwithstanding, colonial troops were employed throughout the army if for no other reason than that they constituted nearly the tenth part of that army.

Their service record naturally included (French pdf) the over-before-it-started French defense against the Nazi blitz in 1940.

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.

The Lentilly cemetery “Tata”, final resting place of 188 Senegalese riflemen who died under German artillery or were massacred after the battle by the 3rd SS Division Totenkopf June 19 and 20. Image (c) filoer and used with permission.

For more on the tirailleurs, there’s an extensive French-language blog.

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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.

Also on this date

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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