Posts filed under 'Gruesome Methods'

1452: Antonio Rizzo, cannonaded

Add comment December 8th, 2019 Headsman

From Charles Stanton in Medieval Maritime Warfare:


In the months preceding the final fall of Constantinople in 1453, the great Ottoman sultan Mehmed (II), the Conqueror, caused to be constructed in less than twenty weeks on the European bank of the Bosporus just north of the city a colossal castle which he called Bas-kesen, meaning ‘Decapitator’ or ‘Throat-cutter’. Later called Rumeli Hisar (‘Castle of the Roman Lands’), it stood opposite the Anadolu Hisar (‘Castle of Anatolia’), built in 1394 by his great-grandfather Bayezit I at the narrowest part of the strait (less than 1km across). It consisted of three main towers and fourteen smaller ones connected by inner and outer curtain walls, covering an area of 31,250 sq. m (almost 7.75 acres). The fortress still stands to this day, glowering down upon passing maritime traffic much as it did when it was completed on 31 August 1452.


The view from the still-standing fortress shows its commanding view over the narrow strait. (cc) image from Olga Petrovska.

The main tower in the middle was 22m (72ft) high and 23.3m (76ft 5 in) in diameter, with 6.5m (21ft 4in) thick walls. Named the Halil Pasha after the sultan’s vizier who built it, it stood closest to the shoreline. On it, Mehmed had positioned what were described as ‘bronze tubes capable of discharging balls weighing over six hundred pounds’. He then gave the citadel’s commander, one Firuz Aga, the following explicit instructions:

Do not allow ships sailing from the Hellespont [Dardanelles] to the Black Sea or from the Black Sea to the Hellespont, no matter under whose flag they may be sailing — Genoese, Venetian, Constantinopolitan, Kaffatinian, Trapezundian, Amisinian, Sinopean, or even under my own flag, and no matter what class they are — triremes, biremes, barques, or skiffs — to sail through without first lowering their sails and paying the customs duties; only after they have done so will you permit them to proceed on their way. Use the cannon to sink the ship that does not comply and submit.

Early the following November two Venetian ships destined for the Dardanelles ignored the injunction and passed through the Bosporus without stopping as ordered. Luckily, they survived the consequent cannonade. A third, carrying grain for Constantinople a short time later, was not so fortunate. The earlier experience had evidently served to provide Firuz Aga’s gunners with the proper range. A single stone from one of the cannon ‘shattered the ship’. The crew of thirty, including the captain, a certain Antonio Rizzo, were subsequently captured and taken to the sultan in Didymoteichos (in Thrace, about 37km or 23 miles south of Adrianople — modern Edirne). ‘He gave orders to behead them all except the captain whose life was to be taken by a stake through the anus,’ recorded a fifteenth-century chronicler known only as ‘Doukas’, who claimed he himself saw Rizzo’s rotting corpse only ‘a few days later’. The impact on maritime warfare was just as dramatic. The advent of a true ship-killing weapon spelled the end of one age and the beginning of another.

In his watershed study Gunpowder and Galleys, early modern military historian John Francis Guilmartin concluded that the one technological innovation most responsible for ushering in a new age of warfare was ‘the use of effective heavy cannon’. It was, therefore, fitting that Mehmed II employed perhaps the largest cannon ever built up to that point to vanquish the first great naval power of the passing medieval period. In his campaign to conquer Constantinople, the Ottoman sultan engaged a Hungarian engineer named Orban to produce a sort of supergun which could smash the several-feet thick Theodosian Walls that had protected the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire for a millennium. ‘In three months’ time a terrifying and extraordinary monster was forged,’ testified Doukas. Mehmed’s Greek biographer, Michael Kritovoulos, provided precise dimensions: the barrel was cast in bronze some 20cm (8in) thick; it measured about 8m (26ft 8in) long, with a bore at the muzzle of 76m (30in) in diameter. In a test, the cannon discharged a 544kg (1,200-pound) stone ball which burrowed itself almost 2m (6ft) into the ground over 1.6km (1m) away. Doukas said that thirty wagons pulled by sixty oxen and 200 men were required to haul it from Adrianople to Constantinople where it was positioned to batter the walls south of the Blachernae Palace.

Not content with this ostentatious display of military power, Mehmed then brought to bear the full force of his powerful new fleet. The Byzantines had barred the entrance to the Golden Horn with a giant iron chain suspended on wooden pontoons between two fortified towers, one on each side. (This chain currently resides in the Turkish Naval Museum of Istanbul.)


(cc) image from Henri Bergius.

A squadron of ten Greek warships was stationed outside it, while another sixteen from Genoa, Venice and other western maritime cities guarded it from inside. Previous Ottoman assaults on this defensive cordon had failed, so the sultan circumvented it by building a road of greased wooden logs across Galata Hill behind the Genoese colony of Pera on the side of the Golden Horn opposite the city. He then, on 22 April, had seventy to eighty ‘biremes on wheeled cradles’ hauled over said byway and into the harbour behind the chain. The manoeuvre demoralized the defenders and enabled Mehmed’s naval forces to attack the city’s sea walls from the Golden Horn at the same time that his army assaulted the land walls. Inevitably, Constantinople fell on 29 May 1453. Vanquished were the last vestiges of Byzantine imperial power and its maritime thalassocracy remained only as a distant memory.

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Entry Filed under: 15th Century,Beheaded,Byzantine Empire,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Gibbeted,Greece,Gruesome Methods,History,Impaled,Ottoman Empire,Power,Public Executions,Turkey,Wartime Executions

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1620: Michal Piekarski, warhammer wielder

Add comment November 27th, 2019 Headsman

Calvinist nobleman Michal Piekarski was spectacularly executed in Warsaw on this date in 1620 for attempting the life of the Polish-Lithuanian king.

The lengthy reign of Sigismund III Vasa marks Poland’s downward slide out of her golden age, although how much of this trendline is personally attributable to Sigismund embarks scholarly debates well beyond this writer’s ken.

Sigismund III Vasa held both the Polish-Lithuanian and the Swedish thrones in a personal union but he lost the latter realm to rebellion; he meddled unsuccessfully in Russia’s Time of Troubles interregnum; and he faced a rebellion of nobility in 1606-1608 that, although it failed to overthrow him, permanently curtailed the power Polish monarchy.

That conflict with the aristocracy overlapped with a sectarian schism common throughout Europe in the train of the Protestant Reformation — for Sigismund was very Catholic and his nobility divided.

It’s the latter fissure that’s thought to have supplied the proximate motivation for our date’s principal. Piekarski (English Wikipedia entry | Polish), a petty noble, had long been noted as a moody, melancholic man too unstable even to be entrusted with the management of his own estates — the consequence of a childhood head injury.

He was also a staunch Calvinist, but broad-minded enough to find virtue in his opponents’ tactics. In 1610, Catholic ultra Francois Ravaillac had assassinated France’s Henri IV, and it’s thought that Ravaillac’s boldness put the bee into Piekarski’s bonnet.

A decade later, the Pole stung with cinematic flair: he jumped Sigismund in a narrow corridor while the latter was en route to Mass and dealt 1d8 bludgeoning damage by thumping the king in the back with a warhammer; after a second attempted blow only grazed the sovereign’s cheek, the royal entourage subdued Piekarski and started looking up chiropractors.


It’s only a model: replica of the would-be assassin’s instrument on display in Warsaw.

Torture failed to elucidate a coherent motivation from a muddled mind. Reports had him only babbling nonsense, so attribution of the attack to religious grievance remains no more than partially satisfying; there were rumors of other more determined instigators to steer Piekarski’s mind towards regicide for their own ends. (Although he didn’t get the king, he did confer upon the Polish tongue the idiom “plesc jak Piekarski na mekach” — “to mumble like Piekarski under torture”.)

In the end, for Ravaillac’s crime, he took Ravaillac’s suffering: the Sejm condemned him to an elaborate public execution which comprised having his flesh torn by red-hot pincers as he was carted around Warsaw, until reaching a place called Piekielko (“Devil’s Den”) where the hand he had dared to raise against the king was struck off, and then what was left of his ruined flesh was torn into quarters with the aid of four straining horses.

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Entry Filed under: 17th Century,Assassins,Attempted Murder,By Animals,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Diminished Capacity,Disfavored Minorities,Dismembered,Execution,God,Gruesome Methods,History,Nobility,Notable for their Victims,Poland,Public Executions,Religious Figures,Torture,Treason

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1594: Edward Osbaldeston

Add comment November 16th, 2019 Edward Osbaldeston

(Thanks to Elizabethan Catholic martyr Edward Osbaldeston for the guest post on the 16 November, 1594 York execution of Elizabethan Catholic martyr Edward Osbaldeston. We offer here the letter from his own hand recounting the circumstances of his capture, as published subsequently by Richard Challoner. -ed.)

I was apprehended at Towlerton by Mr. Thomas Clark, the apostate priest, upon St. Hierome’s day [September 30], at night; a thing much more to my comfort, than at any other time; for that I had such a special patron to commend myself to, and such a stout champion under Christ; and, besides, it pleased God, much to my comfort, to let this sign of his love fall unto me that day above all others; for that it was God’s great goodness to call me to the honour of priesthood; and that, upon St. Hierome’s day, I said my first mass, and consecrated the blessed body and blood of my Saviour Jesus Christ, and received him with great reverence and devotion, and ever since have honoured St. Hierome [Jerome]. And the morning before I came forth, I made my prayer to blessed St. Hierome; and, in his merits, I offered myself a sacrifice to God, and recommended myself to him, to direct me to his will and pleasure, and that I might walk aright in my vocation, and follow St. Hierome, as long as God should see it expedient for his church, and most for his honour and glory: and if it pleased him still to preserve me, as he had done before, I never would refuse to labour, or murmur at any pain or travail; and if it should please his majesty to suffer me to fall into the prosecutors’ hands, that then it would please his infinite goodness to protect me to the end; which I have no doubt but he will, after so many and so great goodnesses and gifts, as he hath bestowed on me over all my life, which are without number and inexplicable: wherefore my hope and trust is much helped, that now be will be most sure unto me, since this is the weightiest matter that I ever was about in my life: and so considering this, and infinite others, such like, I find great comfort, and fully trust in God’s goodness, and distrust only in myself; but in him that comforteth me, I can do all things. And this actual oblation of myself that morning, and this that ensueth, maketh me very comfortable, and bringeth me into many good and heavenly cogitations, feeling his strength so much as I have done in lesser matters, and further off from him than this is: therefore I nothing doubt, by his grace, but he will grant me to finish that which was for him, and by him, begun; which I pray God I may worthily do when his good will and pleasure is, and not before: and that I may not wish or desire any thing in this life but what may best please him and honour him, and our blessed lady his mother, and all the court of heaven, the most, and edify the people, and strengthen them in the way to Jesus, the king of bliss.

The manner [of my apprehension] was thus: Abraham Sayre and I came to the Inn a little before Mr. Clark, and we all came before night. I knew him not fully; for I thought he had been in the south; but at supper I looked earnestly at him, and I thought it was he, and yet I still persuaded myself that he knew me not, and if he should know me, he would do me no harm: which fell out otherwise; God forgive him for it. For when we were going to bed, he went and called the curate and constable, and apprehended us, and watched us that night, and came with us to York, and stood by when I was examined before the council, but said nothing then, that I feared; and he was present afterwards when I was called again; and since I have been nothing said unto; what will follow, God knoweth: but I will not be partial to myself, but prepare me for death, and what else may befal unto me. Now I pray you, for God’s sake, what you hear or learn let me know; and what is the best course for me to take in all points; and how my brethren have behaved themselves in this case, that have gone before me; and, for myself, I yield me wholly to obedience to you in that blessed society and number in the castle: and desire, in all points, to live in discipline and order, and as the common live; and what I have, or shall have, it shall be in common. — And therefore I pray you direct me in all things, both for my apparel and diet, and every thing; and as my brethren have gone before me, so would I follow in the humblest sort.

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Entry Filed under: 16th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Drawn and Quartered,England,Execution,God,Gruesome Methods,History,Martyrs,Public Executions,Religious Figures,Treason

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Feast Day of the Talavera Martyrs

Add comment October 27th, 2019 Headsman

The gorgeous Basilica de San Vicente* in Avila, Spain is dedicated to a trio of Christian martyrs whose feast day today is.


(cc) inage from David Perez.

The Romanesque masterpiece was begun about 1175, when the relics of three Diocletian martyrs — Saint Vicente and his sisters Sabina and Cristeta — were translated from the Monastery of San Pedro de Arlanza. (In the present day, the relics reside in the church’s high altar.)

Panels in the basilica relay for the illiterate medieval audience their stock martyrdom tale of these faithful siblings: tortured on wooden crosses before having their heads graphically smashed under wooden beams.


Vicente, Sabina, and Cristeta, the martyrs of Talavera, along with St. Anthony (16th century painting).

* The church’s full official name is Basilica de los Santos Hermanos Mártires, Vicente, Sabina y Cristet.

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Entry Filed under: Ancient,Crushed,Disfavored Minorities,God,Gruesome Methods,Martyrs,Religious Figures,Roman Empire,Spain,Torture,Uncertain Dates,Women

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1775: Huttenkloas

Add comment September 13th, 2019 Headsman

The notorious Dutch criminal Huttenkloas was broken on the wheel on this date in 1775.


The distinctive brand Huttenkloas today attaches to a brewery with a sigil depicting the “chair of Huttenkloas” into which the robber was chained and tortured for several months. This torture device — the chair, not the beer — can be seen at the Palthehuis Museum in Oldenzaal.

Klaas Annink by name (English Wikipedia entry | Dutch), this 65-year-old was implicated in a number of robbers and murders in the vicinity of Hof van Twente, nearby the village where he lived in his creepy shack. His son Jannes and his wife Aarne Spanjers were also condemned for these same crimes, and both also put to death.

We’re a bit short on archival footage of Huttenkloas, but this 2019 re-enactment might do instead.

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Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Broken on the Wheel,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Gruesome Methods,Netherlands,Public Executions,Serial Killers,Torture

1767: Elsjen Roelofs

Add comment September 9th, 2019 Headsman

Elsjen Roelofs was broken on the wheel at Assen on this date in 1767 — an unusual fate for a woman, inflicted for poisoning her husband. The sources about her, and the links in this post, are almost exclusively in Dutch.

A farmer’s daughter who made a property-driven arranged marriage to another farmer, Roelofs was seemingly (so a neighbor described) driven to her desperate act when the said Jan Alberts purposed to move away, which would have separated her from her own family.

This poignant story is speculatively novelized by Janne IJmker in Achtendertig Nachten (Thirty-Eight Nights, which was the distance of time between the pregnant Roelofs delivering her daughter in prison on August 2, and the execution of the sentence). (Here’s a review.)

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Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Arts and Literature,Broken on the Wheel,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Gruesome Methods,Murder,Netherlands,Public Executions,Women

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1588: Eight Catholics after the defeat of the Spanish Armada

Add comment August 28th, 2019 Headsman

On this date in 1588, Elizabethan England celebrated the defeat of the Spanish Armada with Catholic gallows spread throughout London, claiming eight souls in all.

It was earlier that August that English pluck, Dutch reinforcements, and the Protestant Wind had connived to see off that great Spanish fleet and the prospect of Catholic and continental domination.

Although Catholics were liable for life and limb throughout these years it’s hard to put down the large-scale public hangings (some with full drawing-and-quartering pains) of priests and laymen down to coincidental timing, particularly given the unusual choice to distribute them to several gallows all around London. Here, surely, was a triumphant gloat for the furtive adherents of the old faith to ponder.

The Catholic Encylcopedia’s entry on the Venerable Robert Morton, a priest who was put to death at Lincoln’s Inn Fields, surveys the carnage:

At the same time and place suffered Hugh Moor, a layman, aged 25, of Grantham, Lincolnshire, and Gray’s Inn, London, for having been reconciled to the Church by Fr. Thomas Stephenson, S.J. On the same day suffered (1) at Mile End, William Dean, a priest (q. v.); and Henry Webley, a layman, born in the city of Gloucester; (2) near the Theatre, William Gunter, a priest, born at Raglan, Monmouthshire, educated at Reims; (3) at Clerkenwell, Thomas Holford, a priest, born at Aston, in Acton, Cheshire, educated at Reims, who was hanged only; and (4) between Brentford and Hounslow, Middlesex, James Claxton or Clarkson, a priest, born in Yorkshire and educated at Reims; and Thomas Felton, born at Bermondsey Abbey in 1567, son of B. John Felton,* tonsured 1583 and about to be professed a Minim, who had suffered terrible tortures in prison.

Another priest, plus four additional lay Catholics, quaffed the same bitter cup on August 30.

* No relation, however, to the executed assassin John Felton forty years on: that man’s father made his way in the world hunting Catholic recusants to inform upon.

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Entry Filed under: 16th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Drawn and Quartered,England,Execution,God,Gruesome Methods,Hanged,History,Martyrs,Mass Executions,Power,Public Executions,Religious Figures,Torture,Treason,Wartime Executions

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

Add comment August 1st, 2019 Headsman

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

August, 1630.

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

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

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1391: Amerigot Marcel, cast down

Add comment July 12th, 2019 Jean Froissart

(Thanks to medieval scribbler Jean Froissart for the guest post, an episode narrated in his famous chronicle. -ed.)

During the time of the assembling of this body of men-at-arms in France, for an expedition to extend the Christian faith, and gain renown, there were other men-at-arms wholly given up to plunder in Limousin, Auvergne, and Rouergue, who, in spite of the truce [pausing the Hundred Years’ War], were continually doing mischief to the countries which thought themselves in security.

The King of France had caused the truce to be publicly notified to the captains of the freebooters, particularly to Perrot le Béarnois, governor of Chaluçet, Amerigot Marcel, and others, who were publicly named in the act, and were assured that if the truce were in the smallest degree infringed, those guilty of it should be corporally punished, without hope of mercy. Some of the captains, fearful of a disgraceful death, or of incurring the king’s indignation, kept the peace very well; others did not, for which they paid severely, as you will hear in the continuation of this history. You have before heard it related in these chronicles, indited and arranged by me, Sir John Froissart, treasurer and canon of Chimay, how peace had been agreed upon with many of the captains of castles in Auvergne and other places, by the mediation of John, Count d’Armagnac, and the Dauphin of Auvergne, to whom they had surrendered their castles for different sums of money; and that they had undertaken to accompany the count to Lombardy, or whithersoever he might lead them.

Count d’Armagnac and the dauphin had laboured hard to gain over these captains, and the country had submitted to be heavily taxed in order to get rid of them: however, Amerigot Marcel and his garrison still continued to do much mischief, and could not be induced to join the count.

Fond of plundering, he resolved to continue it, and having a desire to gain possession of a strong fort called La Roche de Vendais, he and his companions set out thither, and when they had gained the place fortified it, and made it as strong as they could. This done, they began to overrun the neighbouring country — to make prisoners and ransom them. They laid in stores of flesh, meal, wax, wine, salt, iron, steel, and other necessaries; for nothing came amiss to them that was not too hot or too heavy. The inhabitants of the country were much astonished at this, for they thought themselves in perfect security on account of the truce; but these robbers seized whatever they pleased in their houses, or in the fields, calling themselves the Adventurers. Amerigot and his men became the terror of the whole neighbourhood. The countries of Auvergne and Limousin were in a continual state of alarm because of him, and the knights and squires, with the townsmen of Clermont Montferrant, and Riom, and the towns on the Allier, resolved to send notice of their situation to the King of France.

When it was known to those companies who had been disbanded, and were now out of pay, that Amerigot Marcel was continuing the war, many of them came to offer him their services, and he had very soon more than he wished; none of them asked for pay, but solely to be retained by him, for they well knew that those under him would gain a sufficiency from the overplus of the plunder which he gave up to his men. Sometimes he made excursions in the upper parts of the district, and sometimes in an opposite direction; nothing was talked of in Auvergne and Limousin but the robbers of La Roche de Vendais, and greatly was the country frightened by them.

The garrison of Chaluçet, under command of Perrot le Béarnois, steadily adhered to the truce, and were much angered when they learnt that Amerigot was thus harassing the country. The King of France and his council, on hearing the harm that Amerigot and his companions were doing, immediately turned their attention to the matter, and sent the Viscount de Meaux with a large body of men to oppose them. Amerigot was preparing to ravage the country between Clermont and Montferrant, when it was told him that the viscount was advancing, and this intelligence made him defer his intended excursion, for he foresaw that his fortress would be attacked.

Tolerably near to La Roche de Vendais was another fort, called St. Soupery, under the government of Amerigot, where his wife resided, and whither he had sent the greater part of his wealth; he gave orders for the servants and horses to be received into the fort until better times. La Roche de Vendais was naturally strong, and the present garrison had fortified it by every means in their power; it was separated from the high mountains that surround it, and seated on an insulated rock, one side of which the garrison had so strongly fortified that it could only be approached in front, and attacked by skirmishes. The force under command of the Viscount de Meaux advanced and laid siege to the place; it was about the middle of August, the weather was warm and pleasant, and all the knights were comfortably lodged under huts made of green boughs.

The siege of La Roche de Vendais lasted nine weeks, and during it there were constant skirmishes between the two parties, in which many were wounded. The garrison had much the advantage of the besiegers, and I will tell you how; they could sally out whenever they pleased, for it would have required at least 6,coo men to have completely surrounded this castle. When the siege first took place Amerigot felt that he was acting wrong; but to turn the matter as much to his advantage as he could, and if possible to preserve La Roche de Vendais, he determined to send one of his men to England with credential letters to the king and the Duke of Lancaster. Accordingly, with the advice of his uncle, Guyot du Sel, who was with him in the fort, he instructed a well-educated varlet, and sent him off with three letters, one to the king, another to the Duke of Lancaster, and the third to the king’s council. The man performed his journey satisfactorily, and was fortunate enough to find the king, his two uncles of Lancaster and York, with the council, at the palace of Westminster, considering the affairs of Northumberland, and what force they should send thither, for the Scots no way observed the truce.

The messenger of Amerigot soon obtained a hearing, and having been well tutored, and not afraid of speaking, after delivering the letters, he explained so eloquently the reason of his coming, and the wishes of his master, that he was attentively listened to, and was at length told that the king would write to the Viscount de Meaux, and the Duke of Berry, in the manner Amerigot had desired. The Duke of Lancaster promised to do the same, and that the letter should be delivered by an English squire attached to him; that Derby the herald should cross the sea, and accompany them when they gave their letters, in order to aid their success, for he was well known to many lords in Auvergne, particularly to the Duke of Berry. Amerigot was delighted on his messenger’s return, and told him that he had done justice to his commission, for which he would reward him handsomely. The English Squire and Derby set out at once for La Roche de Vendais, and, when arrived at the place where the besiegers lay, inquired for the quarters of the Viscount de Meaux, to whom they presented their letters. The viscount, after examining the seals, read the contents of the letters several times over, and then said to the squire and the herald, “My fair sirs, the intelligence you have brought demands full consideration; I will advise upon it, and you shall soon have my answer.”

The Squire and herald then withdrew, and a council was moved, before which the viscount laid the letters he had received; the knights were much surprised how intelligence of the siege could have been carried to England for such letters to come from them, as the siege had not lasted one month. “I will tell you what I imagine,” said the viscount: “this Amerigot is a cunning fellow, and the moment he perceived we intended to besiege him, he sent a person to England to request such letters might be written as these now before you, which I shall obey or not as I please.” Upon this the messengers were introduced again, and the viscount told them to take back word that he was a subject of the King of France, and had been ordered thither by him: “In consequence, my fair sirs,” he continued, “I shall strictly obey the commands I have received, and loyally acquit myself of my duty; of course, then, I shall not move hence until I have possession of the fort and garrison, which now holds out against me and my companions.”

The squire and herald then took their leave, by no means contented with the message they had received. “We have had ill-success,” said the squire, “we must wait on the Duke of Berry.” “Yes, he is lord of the whole country,” said Derby, “and if he will order the viscount to decamp he must do so, for he dare not disobey him.” They went accordingly to the duke, who when he received the letters read them twice over, and then gave such courteous answers that both were satisfied; for he said, from his affection to his cousins, he would do all in his power to comply with their request; he therefore exerted himself to have the siege of La Roche de Vendais raised, and wrote to the viscount to this effect, engaging that if Amerigot Marcel were left in quiet possession of his fort, he should not hereafter molest the country, and that he should make reparation to the King of France for having offended him.

The viscount, on receiving this intimation, said to his companions, “Gentlemen, we shill never have peace, since the Duke of Berry supports Amerigot; the duke commands me to raise the siege the instant I have read his letter; but, by my faith, I will do no such thing.”

I must now relate what happened to Amerigot, and to his fort. Amerigot had a quick imagination, and concluding from the continuance of the siege that the letters from the King of England and the Duke of Lancaster had failed, he thought of another expedient, which was to leave his castle, and ride night and day to the garrisons in Perigord, and other places, to seek succour from other pillagers, and entice them by fair speeches to enter Auvergne for the sake of plunder, and then to advance some morning or evening to La Roche de Vendais, and capture the knights and Squires before it, which would bring them more than 1oo,ooo francs for their ransoms, without counting smaller articles of pillage. He explained his whole plan to his uncle, Guyot du Sel, and asked his opinion. Guyot replied that he very much approved of it. “Well, uncle,” said Amerigot, “since you approve I will undertake it, only I must beg that during my absence you never sally out of the castle, nor open the barriers.” “It shall be so,” answered Guyot: “we will remain shut up here until we hear from you.”

Within three days after Amerigot left the castle attended only by a page, and without the besiegers being aware of his absence. The castle continued to be assaulted as usual, and on one occasion Guyot du Sel, forgetful of his promise to Amerigot, was induced to sally forth, when he was surprised by an ambuscade, and obliged to surrender the place. News of the loss of La Roche de Vendais was carried to Amerigot Marcel as he was raising troops to break up the siege, and on learning that it was occasioned by an imprudent sally of Guyot du Sel, he exclaimed, “Ah, the old traitor by St. Marcel, if I had him here I would slay him; he has disgraced me and all my companions; this misfortune can never be recovered.”

Amerigot Marcel was indeed sadly cast down; he knew not from whom to ask advice, nor whether to return to Auvergne or to go to Bordeaux, send for his wife, and have his fortune brought thither by little at a time. If he had followed this plan, he would have done well; but he acted otherwise, and, as the event will show, suffered for it. It is thus Fortune treats her favourites; when she has raised them to the highest pitch of her wheel, she suddenly plunges them in the dirt — witness Amerigot Marcel.

The foolish fellow was worth, as was believed in Auvergne, more than 100,000 francs in money, which he lost in one day, together with his life. I therefore say that Dame Fortune played him one of her tricks, which she has played to several before, and she will do the same to many after him. In his tribulation, Amerigot bethought himself of a cousin he had in Auvergne, a squire, by name Tournemine, to whom he resolved to apply and ask for advice. This he did, and attended only by one page entered the castle of his cousin, with whom he thought to meet with a good reception, but he was disappointed; for his cousin immediately arrested him, and shortly after he was conveyed to Paris, where his head was cut off, and his four quarters affixed over four different gates. Such was the sad end of Amerigot Marcel; I know not what became of his wife, or of his wealth. I have dwelt very long on his actions, that I might illustrate his life and death; for, in such a history as this, both good and bad actions must be spoken of, that they may serve as an excitement or warning in times to come. Had Amerigot turned his mind to virtue he would have done much good, for he was an able man-at-arms, and of great courage; but having acted in a different manner, he came to a disgraceful death.


Detail view (click for the full image) of an illustration of Amerigot Marcel’s execution from a gorgeously illustrated 1470s edition of Froissart’s chronicle.

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Entry Filed under: 14th Century,Arts and Literature,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Drawn and Quartered,Execution,France,Gibbeted,Gruesome Methods,Guest Writers,History,Other Voices,Power,Public Executions,Soldiers,Wartime Executions

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1591: Ralph Milner, Roger Dickenson, and Laurence Humphrey

Add comment July 7th, 2019 Alban Butler

(Thanks to the English Catholic Alban Butler for the guest post on three martyrs during Elizabethan England. This entry originally appeared in Butler’s hagiographical magnum opus Lives of the Saints which is in the public domain, although updated recent editions are also to be had from the usual booksellers. July 7 is the feast date for all three men described in this post; Dickenson and Milner were actually put to death on that date, while Humphrey’s execution date appears to be unrecorded. -ed.)

In this year [1591] there suffered at Winchester, on July 7, BB. Roger Dickenson and Ralph Milner, and on a date unknown Bd Laurence Humphrey.

Milner was a small farmer, or even a farm-labourer, and brought up a Protestant. Upon contrasting the lives led by his Protestant and Catholic neighbours, to the great disadvantage of the first, he put himself under instruction and was received into the Church; but on the very day of his first communion he was committed to prison for the change of religion. Here he was kept for a number of years, but his confinement was not strict and he was often released on parole, when he would obtain alms and spiritual ministrations for his fellow prisoners, and also use his knowledge of the country to facilitate the movements and work of missionary priests. In this way he made the acquaintance of Father [Thomas] Stanney, s.j., who afterwards wrote a memoir of him in Latin, and with the same priests assistance a secular priest, Mr Roger Dickenson, came to live in Winchester. He was a Lincoln man, who had made his studies at Rheims, and for several years he worked in the Winchester district, helped by Milner.

The first time Mr Dickenson was arrested his guards got so drunk that he was able to escape, but the second time, Milner being with him, they were both committed for trial: Dickenson for being a priest, Milner for “relieving” him. At the trial the judge, being somewhat pitiful for Blessed Ralph, who was old and had a wife and eight children looking to him, recommended him to make one visit as a matter of form to the Protestant parish church, and so secure his release. But, says [Richard] Challoner, Milner answered, “Would your lordship then advise me, for the perishable trifles of this world, or for a wife and children, to lose my God? No, my lord, I cannot approve or embrace a counsel so disagreeable to the maxims of the gospel.” As Father Stanney states that Milner was entirely illiterate, we must assume that this is a paraphrase of his reply. These two suffered together, one of the most moving couples in the whole gallery of English martyrs.

At the same assizes seven maiden gentlewomen were sentenced to death for allowing Bd Roger to celebrate Mass in their houses, but were immediately reprieved; whereupon they asked that they might die with their pastor, seeing that they undoubtedly shared his supposed guilt and should share also in his punishment: but they were returned to prison.

Laurence Humphrey was a young man of Protestant upbringing and good life who, having undertaken to dispute with Father Stanney (referred to above), was instead himself converted. Father Stanney in a brief memoir speaks very highly of the virtues of his neophyte and his energy in instructing the ignorant and relieving the needs of those in prison for their faith. But Humphrey being taken seriously ill, he was heard to say in delirium that “the queen was a whore and a heretic”; his words were reported to the authorities, and before he was well recovered he was committed to Winchester gaol. At his trial he confessed his religion, but denied memory of ever having spoken disrespectfully of the queen; he was nevertheless condemned, and hanged, drawn, and quartered in his twenty-first year.

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Entry Filed under: 16th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Drawn and Quartered,England,Execution,God,Gruesome Methods,Guest Writers,History,Martyrs,Other Voices,Public Executions,Religious Figures

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