Posts filed under 'Arts and Literature'

1651: Christopher Love

Add comment August 22nd, 2019 Robert Wild

(Thanks to English Presbyterian poet Robert Wild for the guest post in verse, celebrating the martyrdom of his coreligionist Christopher Love. Love died for seditious correspondence with the exiled Stuart then-pretender Charles II. Days after Love lost his head, Charles very nearly did likewise when he lost the decisive Battle of Worcester to Oliver Cromwell — famously escaping the rout by a harrowing, six-week flight that repeatedly came within an ace of landing him with his father in our deck of execution playing cards. -ed.)

THE TRAGEDY OF CHRISTOPHER LOVE AT TOWER HILL August 22. 1651.

Prologue.
New from a slaughtred Monarchs Herse I come,
A mourner to a Murthr’d Prophet’s Tombe:
Pardon, Great Charles his Ghost, my Muse had stood
Yet three years longer, till sh’had wept a flood;
Too mean a Sacrifice for Royall Blood.
But Heaven doe by Thunder call
For her attendance at Love’s Funerall.
Forgive Great Sir, this Sacriledge in me,
The Tear he must have, it is his Fee;
‘Tis due to him, and yet ’tis stol’n from Thee.

ARGUMENT.
‘Twas when the raging Dog did rule the Skies,
And with his Scorching face did tyrannize,
When cruell Cromwell, whelp of that mad Star,
But sure more firery than his Syre by far;
Had dryed the Northern Fife, and with his heat
Put frozen Scotland in a Bloody sweat:
When he had Conquered, and his furious Traine
Had chas’d the North-Bear, and pursu’d Charle’s waine
Into the English Orb; then ’twas thy Fate
(Sweet Love) to be a present for our State.
A greater Sacrifice there could not come,
Then a Divine to bleed his welcome home
For He, and Herod, think no dish so good,
As a Iohn Baptists Head serv’d up in blood.

ACT I.
The Philistins are set in their High Court,
And Love, like Sampsons, fetch’d to make them sport:
Unto the Stake the smiling Prisoner’s brought,
Not to be Try’d, but baited, most men thought;
Monsters, like men, must worry him: and thus
He fights with Beasts, like Paul at Ephesus.
Adams, Far and Huntington, with all the pack
Of foysting Hounds were set upon his back.
Prideaux and Keeble stands and cries A’loe;
It was a full Cry, and it would not doe.
Oh how he foyl’d them, Standers-by did swear,
That he the Judge, and they the Traytors were:
For there he prov’d, although he seem’d a Lambe,
Stout, like a Lyon, from whose Den he came!

ACT II.
It is Decreed; nor shall thy Worth, dear Love,
Resist their Vows, nor their revenge remove.
Though prayers were joyn’d to prayers, & tears to tears,
No softnesse in their Rocky hearts appears;
Nor Heaven nor Earth abate their fury can,
But they will have thy Head, thy Head, good Man.
Sure some She sectary longed, and in hast
Must try how Presbyterian Blood did tast.
‘Tis fit she have the best, and therefore thine,
Thine must be broach’d, blest Saint, its drink Divine.
No sooner was the dreadfull Sentence read,
The Prisoner straight bow’d his condemned Head:
And by that humble posture told them all,
It was an Head that did not fear a fall.

ACT III.
And now I wish the fatall stroke were given;
I’m sure our Martyr longs to be in Heaven,
And Heaven to have him there; one moments blow
Makes him tryumphant; but here comes his woe,
His enemies will grant a months suspence
If’t be but for the nonce to keep him thence:
And that he may tread in his Saviours wayes,
He shall be tempted too, his forty dayes:
And with such baits too, cast thy self but down,
Fall, and but worship, and your life’s your own.
Thus cry’d his Enemies, and ’twas their pride
To wound his Body, and his Soul beside.
One plot they have more, when their other fail,
If Devils cannot, disciples may prevail.
Lets tempt him by his friends, make Peter cry
Good Master spare thy self, and do not die.
One friend intreats, a second weeps, a third
Cries your Petition wants the other word:
I’le write it for you, saith a fourth; your life,
Your life Sir, cries a fift; pity your wife,
And the Babe in her: Thus this Diamond’s cut,
By Diamonds onely, and to terrour put.
Me thinks I hear him still, you wounding heart;
Good friends forbear, for every word’s a dart:
‘Tis cruell pity, this I do professe,
You’ld love me more, if you did love me lesse:
Friends, Children, Wife, Life, all are dear I know,
But all’s too dear, if I should buy them so.
Thus like a Rock that routs the waves he stands,
And snaps a sunder, Sampson-like these bands.

ACT IV.
The day is come, the Prisoner longs to go,
And chides the lingring Sun for tarrying so.
Which blushing seemes to answer from the skie,
That it was loath to see a Martyr die.
Me thinks I heard beheaded Saints above
Call to each other, Sirs, make room for Love.
Who, when he came to tread the fatall Stage,
Which prov’d his glory, and his Enemies rage.
His bloud ne’re run to his Heart, Christs Blood was there
Reviving it, his own was all to spare:
Which rising in his Cheeks, did seem to say,
Is this the bloud you thirst for? Tak’t I pray.
Spectators in his looks such life did see,
That they appear’d more like to die than he.
But oh his speech, me thinks I hear it still;
It ravish’d Friends, and did his enemies kill:
His keener words did their sharp Axe exceed,
That made his head, but he their hearts to bleed:
Which he concludes with gracious prayer, and so
The Lamb lay down, and took the butchers blow:
His Soul makes Heaven shine brighter by a Star,
And now we’re sure there’s one Saint Christopher.*

ACT V.
Love lyes a bleeding, and the world shall see
Heaven Act a part in this black Tragedie.
The Sun no sooner spide the Head o’th’ floore,
But he pull’d in his own, and look’d no more:
The Clouds which scattered, and in colours were,
Met all together, and in black appear:
Lightnings, which fill’d the air with Blazing light,
Did serve for Torches all that dismall night:
In which, and all next day for many howers,
Heaven groan’d in Thunder, and did weep in showers.
Nor doe I wonder that God Thundred so
When his Bonarges murthered lay below:
Witnesses trembled, Prideaux, Bradshaw, Keeble,
And all the guilty Court look’d pale and feeble.
Timerous Ienkins, and cold-hearted Drake
Hold out, you need no base Petitions make:
Your enemies thus Thunder-struck no doubt,
Will be beholding to you to goe out.
But if you will Recant, now thundring Heaven
Such approbation to Loves Cause hath given.
I’le adde but this; Your Consciences, perhaps,
Ere long, shall feele far greater Thunder-claps.

Epilogue.
But stay, my Muse growes fearfull too, and must
Beg that these Lines be buried with thy dust:
Shelter, blessed Love, this Verse within thy shroud,
For none but Heaven dares takes thy part aloud.
The Author begs this, least if he be known,
Whilst he bewailes thy Head, he loose his own.**

FINIS.

* A little wink by the author. The Saint Christopher was a supposed early Christian martyr depicted as either or both of a Canaanite giant or a dog-headed man — real tall-tale stuff. His historicity came under fire from iconoclastic critics of the Humanist and Reformation traditions; for example, Erasmus pooh-poohed this folklore in his In Praise of Folly.

** Wild usually worked anonymously in his time, for obvious reasons.

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Entry Filed under: 17th Century,Arts and Literature,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Guest Writers,History,Other Voices,Power,Public Executions,Religious Figures,Treason,Wartime Executions

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1537: Baccio Valori, Michelangelo patron

Add comment August 20th, 2019 Headsman

The Michelangelo sculpture variously known as Apollo, Apollo-David, or Apollino* was commissioned by Baccio Valori, who met his end on the scaffold on this date in 1537.

Photo of the sculpture at Florence’s Bargello.

By way of background, Florence in 1530 had succumbed to the joint siege of Holy Roman Emperor Charles V and Pope Clement VII.**

The republican Michelangelo directed Florence’s fortifications during the siege, and maybe in some alternate timeline he enjoys his own entry on this very execution site: it seems that the papal governor, our guy Baccio Valori, had him on an enemies list once città Gigliata fell into his hands. In the words of Michelangelo’s contemporary and biographer Ascanio Condivi:

But then after the enemy were let in by consent and many citizens were seized and killed, the court sent to Michelangelo’s house to have him seized as well; and all the rooms and chests were searched, including even the chimney and the privy. However, fearing what was to happen, Michelangelo had fled to the house of a great friend of his where he stayed hidden for many days, without anyone except his friend knowing he was there. So he saved himself; for when the fury passed Pope Clement wrote to Florence that Michelangelo should be sought for …

Those last words elide a period of several years, when Michelangelo made a peace offering to the new regime by forming the melancholy Apollo-David for Valori — a side project for the genius while he also worked on the New Sacristy of Florence’s Medici Chapel.

Both projects gave way to papal prerogatives before their completion. Valori was reduced from preeminence in the city when the young Alessandro de’Medici became duke, and Michelangelo was summoned to Rome to paint The Last Judgment on the wall of the Sistine Chapel.

And he was still working on that in 1537, when Alessandro de’ Medici was assassinated by his republican cousin. Alessandro’s murder brought 17-year-old Cosimo de’ Medici to power in Florence, a moment of political uncertainty that stoked the ambitions of the various anti-Medici factions. Thus,

[o]n learning the death of Alessandro and the election of Cosimo, the exiles appreciated the necessity for prompt action, as all delay would be fatal to the overthrow of Medicean rule. They had received money and promises from France; they were strengthened by the adhesion of Filippo Strozzi and Baccio Valori, who had both become hostile to the Medici through the infamous conduct and mad tyranny of Alessandro … The exiles accordingly met, and assembled their forces at Mirandola. They had about four thousand infantry and three hundred horse; among them were members of all the principal Florentine families … They marched rapidly, and entered Tuscany towards the end of July 1537.

The young Cosimo “displayed signal capacity and presence of mind,” infiltrating the rebel army with spies and smashing it in battle at the start of August.

All the prisoners, who were members of great families, were brought before Cosimo, and were received by him with courteous coldness. Soon, however, a scaffold was erected in the Piazza, and on four mornings in succession four of the prisoners were beheaded. Then the duke saw fit to stay the executions. Baccio Valori, however, and his son and nephew were beheaded on the 20th of August in the courtyard of the Bargello. Filippo Strozzi still survived, confined in the Fortezza da Basso, that had been built at his expense … On December 18th he was found dead in his prison, with a blood-stained sword by his side, and a slip of paper bearing these words: exoriare aliquis nostris ex ossibus ultor. It was believed that, having renounced all hope of his life being spared, Strozzi had preferred suicide to death at the hands of the executioner.

* As to the subject of the male nude, there’s a difference of opinion between Michelangelo catalogues of the 1550s — one calling it “an Apollo who draws an arrow from his quiver” and another “an incomplete David.”

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Entry Filed under: 16th Century,Arts and Literature,Beheaded,Businessmen,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Florence,History,Italy,Nobility,Power,Torture

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1661: Jin Shengtan, literary scholar

Add comment August 7th, 2019 Headsman

On this date in 1661, scholar Jin Shengtan — the “father of vernacular Chinese literature” — was

Jin Shengtan (English Wikipedia entry | Chinese) had the misfortune of reaching his intellectual maturity amid the collapse of the Ming Dynasty and the ensuing chaotic transition to the Qing.

In those years he contributed a perspicacious literary commentary that resides to this day in the canon of Chinese letters; his criticism is credited with raising the stature of Chinese vernacular literature, for instance via his meticulous analysis of Water Margin — now rated as one of the four classic Chinese novels.

In 1661, Jin took part in a protest against official corruption whose violent suppression is remembered to Chinese history as the “Lamenting at the Temple of Confucius”. Jin’s particular lament — probably apocryphal but too good not to repeat — has been remembered as a jest from the edge of the grave: “Being beheaded is the most painful thing, but for some reason it’s going to happen to me. Fancy that!”

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Entry Filed under: 17th Century,Arts and Literature,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,China,Death Penalty,Execution,Famous,Famous Last Words,Gallows Humor,History,Intellectuals,Power

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1833: Anastasio Aquino, Nonualco rebel

Add comment July 24th, 2019 Headsman

On this date in 1833, the Federal Republic of Central America executed Salvadoran indigenous rebel Anastasio Aquino.

Monument to Anastasio Aquino in Santiago Nonualco, the place where both man and rising originated (it’s sometimes called the Nonualco Rebellion). (cc) image from AlfredoMercurio-503.

This interesting post-Spanish polity lasted until the Central American federation splintered in 1841 into the modern-day independent states of Nicaragua, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Costa Rica, and a bit of Mexico.

Not for the first time, New World indigenes found the breakaway settler state a less congenial authority than the former colonial overlord — in this case cumbering them with new taxes, with laws facilitating the private takeover of their “uncultivated” lands. and with conscriptions onto exploitive hacienda estates.*

This soon catalyzed a rebellion; its leader, our day’s principal “Aquino the Indian”, was a hacienda laborer aggrieved by the unjust arrest of his brother and for the first months of 1833 he set the state of El Salvador on the brink of revolution, winning several battles as the General Commandant of the Liberation Army and issuing edicts in his own name.

His rebel army was defeated at the end of February and its fugitive general finally captured weeks later — destined for the scaffold and for the literary tribute of subsequent Salvadoran writers who have often styled him a national hero.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Arts and Literature,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,El Salvador,Execution,Famous,History,Power,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Revolutionaries,Shot,Soldiers

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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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1941: Alexandru Bessarab, fascist artist

Add comment July 8th, 2019 Headsman

On this date in 1941, the fascist artist Alexandru Bassarab was killed in World War II — generally believed to be among captured Romanian prisoners of war summarily executed by Soviet troops.

A woodcut/linocut specialist — as evidenced by his gaunt self-portrait to the right — Bassarab was an early adherent of the Iron Guard and became one of its outstanding propagandists.

His very Deus Vult-vibing work Arhangel, for example, was used by the Guard as a banner at the 1940 state funeral it threw for far-right martyr Corneliu Codreanu. (The Iron Guard was shorthand nomenclature for an organ formally named the Legion of the Archangel Michael — and its members hence known as Legionnaires.)

But the Iron Guard’s moment at the political apex was a brief one, and when it was sidelined by a different right-wing strongman, Ian Antonescu, Bessarab found himself arrested and forced into a front-line army unit recapturing (appropriately) Bessarabia. He disappeared into presumed Soviet custody and execution near Tiganca, in present-day Moldova.

His work, including apolitical pieces, was taboo in postwar Communist Romania, but has enjoyed a bit of rediscovery since the end of the Cold War

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Artists,Arts and Literature,Borderline "Executions",Execution,History,No Formal Charge,Romania,Russia,Shot,Soldiers,Summary Executions,USSR,Wartime Executions

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1771: Daskalogiannis

Add comment June 17th, 2019 Headsman

The Crete patriot Ioannis Vlachos — better known as Daskalogiannis — lost his skin to the Turks on this date in 1771.

Statue of the D-man at Anopolis, Crete. (cc) image by AWI.

A wealthy shipping magnate, Daskalogiannis led the Cretan arm of the nationalist Orlov Revolt, which also featured on the Peloponnese. This affair is named not for any Greek but for the Russian admiral Alexei Orlov, who brought his fleet into the Mediterranean to engage the Turks during the 1768-1774 Russo-Turkish War, inspiring the Greek rising in the process.

Unfortunately for the rebels, some initial successes failed to catalyze a national revolution and Russian aid for the breakaway regions came up considerably short of what was pledged. While Orlov’s navy still harried Constantinople, Daskalogiannis for several months maintained a sort of autonomous redoubt from the mountain fastnesses around Sfakia with about 1,300 followers. By early 1771, he was forced to surrender himself at a gorgeous old Venetian fortress, then tortured and was taken to Heraklion and a horrific execution by flaying alive.

He’s commemorated in many street names in Crete, the name of the Chania International Airport, and a number of poems and folk ballads.

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Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Arts and Literature,Businessmen,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Flayed,Greece,Gruesome Methods,History,Martyrs,Occupation and Colonialism,Power,Revolutionaries,Separatists,Torture,Treason,Turkey,Wartime Executions

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Feast Day of St. Erasmus (St. Elmo)

Add comment June 2nd, 2019 Headsman

June 2 is the feast date of early Christian martyr Saint Erasmus of Formia.

If a real historical figure, Erasmus of Formia was a martyr from the persecutions of Diocletian, but the most sure thing about him is that his legend has accumulated like barnacles a variety of “spurious” myth and folklore. It’s an agglomeration that reached a critical mass sufficient to elevate him to the ranks of the Fourteen Holy Helpers, medieval Christendom’s roster of popular big-time intercessors.

He was supposedly a Syrian who landed in Italy as a prelate; there’s a St. Erasmus of Antioch who might either be the same guy in his previous guise or a completely different fellow whose conflated feats explain how Erasmus (of Formia) was both a bishop and a hermit. Oddly enough the Roman Martyrology doesn’t even say that he was put to death for the faith, for Erasmus “was first scourged with leaded whips and then severely beaten with rods; he had also rosin, brimstone, lead, pitch, wax, and oil poured over him, without receiving any injury. Afterwards, under Maximian, he was again subjected to various most horrible tortures at Mola, but was still preserved from death by the power of God for the strengthening of others in the faith. Finally, celebrated for his sufferings, and called by God, he closed his life by a peaceful and holy end.”

Later legends do much him much better for drama and Executed Today eligibility, crediting him with a gory disemboweling death. It’s possible that this association proceeds from Erasmus’s official patronage of sailors: it is he who is the namesake of St. Elmo’s Fire, the electric blue light that gathers to a ship’s mast during a storm,* and his nautical portfolio made his iconographic device the windlass, a winch-and-rope crank that devotees have found suggestive (since so many saints are depicted carrying the instruments of their own martyrdoms) of a device for spooling a man’s intestines. Over time, execution by mechanical evisceration became by popular consensus the passion of Saint Elmo.

“This is one example,” writes Rosa Giorgi in Saints in Art “where imagery influenced hagiography.”


The Martyrdom of Saint Erasmus, by Sebastiano Ricci (c. 1694-1697).


The Martyrdom of Saint Erasmus, by Nicolas Poussin (1628).


Central panel of a triptych of Saint Erasmus’s martyrdom by Dieric Bouts (before 1466).

For wincingly obvious reasons, he’s also the saint to call on for any variety of abdominal distress, from stomach and intestinal maladies to the pangs of birth.

* And also a Brat Pack film.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: Ancient,Arts and Literature,Disemboweled,Execution,God,Gruesome Methods,History,Italy,Not Executed,Popular Culture,Religious Figures,Roman Empire,Torture,Uncertain Dates

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1949: Li Bai, PLA spy

Add comment May 7th, 2019 Headsman

Red spy Li Bai was executed in the Pudong district of Shanghai on this date in 1949.

Li Bai and his circuitry immortalized in stone in Shanghai’s Century Park. (cc) image from (checks notes) “Kgbkgbkgb”

A survivor of the Party’s epic Long March Li Bai (English Wikipedia entry | Chinese) was a Party-trained wireless operator who was detailed to Shanghai with the 1937 outbreak of the Sino-Japanese War.

He was fortunate to survive arrest by the Japanese while transmitting from occupied Shanghai in 1942. (The Japanese took him for a mere enthusiast.) Even more fortunate from his handlers’ standpoint was the interest his radio skills subsequently attracted from the nationalist Kuomintang, which recruited him into service that Li Bai was only too happy to accept.

For the next several years, he sent to the Communists voluminous inside information about the disposition of their opponents in the endgame stage of the Chinese Civil War. He was detected in the last days of 1948, sending to the People’s Liberation Army the troop dispositions that would enable it to overrun the capitals in the subsequent months. Not three weeks after Li Bai’s execution in Shanghai that city fell to the Communists; by year’s end, the Kuomintang had evacuated the mainland for its so-far permanent Formosan redoubt.

There’s a 1958 Chinese biopic about him, titled The Unfailing Radio Wave; the embed below is one of many subsequent readaptations:

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Arts and Literature,Capital Punishment,China,Death Penalty,Espionage,Execution,History,Martyrs,Shot,Spies,Wartime Executions

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1821: Athanasios Diakos, Greek War of Independence hero

Add comment April 24th, 2019 Headsman

Greek independence hero Athanasios Diakos died by Ottoman impalement on this date in 1821.*

Though he acquired his nickname Diakos (“deacon”) from a youthful spell in a monastery, this fellow Athanasios (English Wikipedia entry | Greek) while the Turks still governed Greece made his way as a klepht — Greece’s version of the Balkan hybrid outlaw/guerrilla archetype, similar to the hajduk figures among the South Slavs. All of these outlaw types took to the mountains where they could subsist as brigands and mercenaries beyond the reach of the Porte, and seek opportunities where they might to strike at Ottomans. Many of the Greek persuasion, Diakos included, adhered to the Filiki Eteria secret society that aspired to liberate Greece.

With the onset of the Greek War of Independence in early 1821, Diakos jumped right into the fight. Picturesquely, he met a much larger Turkish detachment in battle at Thermopylae where he made like Leonidas and with a handful of companions heroically held out against impossible odds at the Alamana Bridge.

Captured wounded, Diakos spurned the temptation of an officer’s commission in the Turkish army should he but switch sides with words that remain legendary in his homeland to this day: “I was born a Greek, I shall die a Greek.” He was impaled at the city of Lamia, fearlessly musing, “Look at the time Charon chose to take me, now that the branches are flowering, and the earth sends forth grass.”


The Apotheosis of Athanasios Diakos, by Konstantinos Parthenis (1933).

He’s a very famous and beloved figure in Greece, albeit much less so in parts beyond. The village where Diakos was allegedly born has been renamed for him full stop.

* The narratives I’ve seen run a bit hinkie between the Battle of Alamana on April 22 and the great klepht’s death on April 24 since there’s a two-day gap and everyone seems to agree that he was ordered for execution “the next day”. I’m sticking to the agreed death date here, which is universal, but as best I can discern the timeline alternatives for accounting the missing day appear to break down between the notion that Diakos was impaled on the 23rd and lingered on his spike overnight before death, and that it was not until the 23rd that the Ottoman commander had the opportunity to interrogate him and decide his fate and thus “the next day” was the 24th. I haven’t located a source that appears dispositive on this issue.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Arts and Literature,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Famous,Famous Last Words,Greece,Gruesome Methods,Guerrillas,History,Impaled,Martyrs,No Formal Charge,Occupation and Colonialism,Ottoman Empire,Power,Public Executions,Revolutionaries,Separatists,Soldiers,Summary Executions,Turkey,Wartime Executions

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