Posts filed under 'Cycle of Violence'

1578: Jacob Hessels, “to the gallows, to the gallows!”

Add comment October 4th, 2019 Headsman

Flanders magistrate Jacob Hessels (Dutch link, as are most that follow) was hanged on this date in 1578.

He was a feared hanging judge — the story about him is that he would drift to sleep at the bench and awake with a start exclaiming, “to the gallows, to the gallows!” — who by profession and disposition was ideally suited for the so-called “Council of Blood” that would be seated in 1567 to help the Spanish Duke of Alba suppress the emerging revolt of the Low Countries against Habsburg sovereignty.


In this 1616 engraving by Simon Frisius, the cadaverous Duke of Alba presides over his Council of Troubles or Council of Blood.

He’s credited in particular with drafting the infamous sentence against Counts Egmont and Hoorn, but these were only highlights among a prolific career that earned him the hatred of the parties that chafed under imperial domination.

This was bad news for Hessels when one of those parties, Calvinists, mounted a coup d’etat that took control of Ghent in late 1577. We have in these pages previously encountered this period, in the form of the Calvinists’ persecution of Catholic monks; they also in the course of things imprisoned a number of secular officials associated with Habsburg/Catholic rule. Most of these would in time be ransomed unharmed; however, one of the principal leaders of the short-lived Calvinist Republic was Francois van Ryhove, who considered Hessels and another captive state’s attorney named Visch to be personal enemies and resolved upon their destruction.

Without color of any law or juridical proceeding, according to this Dutch-language history,

On October 4, 1578, he took the two prisoners out of their dungeon and had them carried outside of the gate in an armed carriage. Not far from town, the carriage stopped at Ryhove’s order, the prisoners were made to climb down, and Ryhove announced that they would be hung on a nearby tree immediately. He then mocked the old Hessels in a shameful way, and he went so far as to mistreat him viciously by grabbing his beard and pulling out a fistful of gray hair, which he put on his hat like a feather as an insignia of his revenge! His companions followed the mocking example of their unworthy leader; then the two unfortunates were hung to the tree.

Hessels and Visch, but especially the former, undoubtedly deserved death, and if that punishment had been imposed on them as a result of a legal judgment, few would have complained. But now they fell as the victims of a shameful, personal vengeance. Ryhove, the head of the Ghent party of revolution, the friend of Orange, had killed them without trial and his crime remained unpunished, for the prince had not power enough to make him feel his displeasure. Was it a miracle that the malcontents were crying out for revenge, that they were using the horrific crime committed by that one man as a pretext to also justify on their part to such atrocities against the Protestants, and that the angry Gentenaars in their turn again took revenge by assaulting the Catholic priests and looting the monasteries?

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Entry Filed under: 16th Century,Borderline "Executions",Capital Punishment,Cycle of Violence,Death Penalty,Execution,Habsburg Realm,Hanged,History,Judges,Lawyers,Netherlands,No Formal Charge,Spain,Summary Executions,Wartime Executions,Wrongful Executions

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1916: Yakub Cemil, Ottoman putschist

Add comment September 11th, 2019 Headsman

Ottoman officer Yakub Cemil was executed on this date in 1916 as an aspiring putschist.

A Circassian infantryman who served under Enver Pasha in the 1900s, Cemil was an early and ardent supporter of the Committee of Union and Progress. This onetime underground party ascended to national preeminence in 1908, after which Cemil became a sturdy “weapon of the organization”.

He did not shrink to imbrue his hands with blood; allegedly, he assassinated journalist Ahmet Samin Bey in 1910, and on campaign in Libya against the Italian invasion he privately murdered a black lieutenant out of some combination of suspected espionage and racial animus. His implacability was his great asset and his great liability; the eventual father of post-Ottoman Turkeuy, Ataturk is perhaps apocryphally supposed to have mused, “If I one day mount a revolution, Cemil is the first man I want by my side, and Cemil is the first man I will hang afterwards.”

Such provincial homicides were but studies for the main deed of his days when in the 1913 Ottoman coup d’etat when he gunned down War Minister Nazim Pasha on the steps of the Sublime Porte as his CUP comrades barged in to force the resignation of the aging Grand Vizier and take the state firmly in hand.

It was an act that shook capitals around the world.


9 February 1913 edition of Le Petit Journal with a cover depiction of “un coup d’etat a Constantinople: muertre de Nazim Pacha”.

Ironically it was a desire for peace that brought his end. A couple of years deep into the catastrophe of World War I, Cemil rightly perceived the need to extricate his state from the conflict, and began making plans to topple the “Three Pashas” of the CUP whom he had helped to bring to power. His old friend Enver Pasha had no intention of approving the resulting death sentence — indeed, he had caught wind of it and tried persuasion to bring Cemil back onside — but when Enver Pasha was summoned to Berlin for a war council the fellow triumvir Talaat Pasha signed off on the execution with dispatch.

Rumors and legends abound concerning his death, such as shouting “Long live the Committee for Union and Progress!” before the firing squad opened up on him, and an agonizing half-hour bleed-out during which the expiring Cemil scrawled a patriotic slogan in the dirt with his own blood.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Assassins,Capital Punishment,Cycle of Violence,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Ottoman Empire,Power,Shot,Soldiers,Treason,Turkey,Wartime Executions

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1217: Eustace the Monk, turncoat outlaw

Add comment August 24th, 2019 Headsman

On this date in 1217, the pirate Eustace the Monk was defeated in battle and summarily beheaded, scuppering an ongoing invasion that nearly seated a French dauphin on the English throne.

This colorful outlaw commenced life as the younger son of a Boulogne lord, but his conventional path into the Abbey Saint-Wulms was aborted by the murder of his father — leading Eustace to abandon his cowl for a vain attempt at vengeance.

“From a black monk becoming demoniac” — in the words of one chronicle — the man’s career thence proceeded, first rejoining the secular economy as a seneschal and then pivoting to outlawry when his former master turned against him.

His exploits in banditry are greatly embellished and romanticized in the medieval French verse titled Eustache the Monk (peruse in full here; helpful introduction here), including a number of charming and imaginary vignettes that double as moral parables and medieval slices-of-life.

Eustache spotted the Abbot of Jumièges as he was coming down the road. “Sir Abbot,” he said, “stop where you are! What are you carrying? Come now, don’t hide it.” The Abbot answered: “What’s it to you?” At this, Eustache was ready to hit him, but instead replied: “What’s it to me, fat-ass? Upon my word, I’ll make it my business. Get down, fast, and not another word out of you, or I’ll let you have it. You’ll be beaten up so badly you won’t be worth a hundred pounds.” The Abbot thought the man was drunk, and said, more politely this time: “Go away. You won’t find what you are looking for here.” Eustache responded: “Cut the bullshit and get off your horse fast, or you’ll be in for a lot of trouble.” The Abbot got down, frightened now. Eustache asked how much money he had with him. “Four marks,” said the Abbot, “in truth I only have four marks silver.” Eustache searched him immediately and found thirty marks or more. He gave back to the Abbot the four marks he claimed to have. The Abbot became duly furious; for, had he told the truth, he would have got back all his money. The Abbot lost his money only because he told a lie.

Around this time Eustace set up as a freelance English Channel pirate and was regularly employed by the English King John from about 1205 until 1212, when he switched his allegiance back to Philip II of France. Eustace tormented his former English patrons during the civil war in that country that led to the Magna Carta; the rebel barons in this war offered the English throne to the French heir Louis, and Louis invaded and held London and about half the realm, merrily aided by Eustace’s channel buccaneers.

Things went sideways for Louis and for Eustace in 1217; the former suffered a devastating reversal at the Battle of Lincoln.* Our man Eustace, attempting to reinforce Louis’s camp, was intercepted at sea and trounced at the Battle of Sandwich.**

Run-of-the-mill French knights were captured for ransom as per usual;

With Eustance, however, the case was different. When the ship was captured, the English instituted a search for him, and he was at length discovered down in the hold (Matthew Paris says in the bilge-water) by ‘Richard Sorale and Wudecoc’. Then Eustace offered a large sum of money for a ransom, ten thousand marks, as the writer of the Guillaume le Marechal puts it; ‘but it could not be.’ His addition offer (so Wendover) to serve the king of the English faithfully thereafter, if actually made, would have been only a reminder of his previous injuries. It was Stephen Trabe (or Crave) [or Crabbe -ed.], one of the mariners, ‘who had long been with him,’ that executed him, so the Histoire des Ducs de Normandie tells us; or as the poem of Guillaume le Marechal narrates it: ‘There was one there named Stephen of Winchelsea, who recalled to him the hardships which he had caused them both upon land and sea and who gave him the choice of having his head cut off either upon the trebuchet or upon the rail of the ship. Then he cut off his head.’ The head was subsequently fixed upon a lance and borne to Canterbury and about the country for a spectacle. The Romance concludes with the sentiment: ‘Nor can one live long who is intent always upon doing evil.’ (Henry Lewis Cannon


13th century illustration: Eustace gets the chop over the side of the boat.

Eustace’s defeat completely undermined Louis’s position, and the chancer was obliged to retreat to his homeland — where he’d become king in 1223. He’s known as Louis the Lion, which is pretty good, but he was rather convincingly surpassed by his son Saint Louis.

* Known to history as the “Lincoln Fair” for all the looting that occurred afterwards.

** The English maneuver on this occasion was to use an advantageous wind to hurl lime onto the French ships, blinding the enemy crews.

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Entry Filed under: 13th Century,Arts and Literature,At Sea,Beheaded,Borderline "Executions",Cycle of Violence,England,Execution,France,History,No Formal Charge,Outlaws,Pirates,Power,Soldiers,Summary Executions,The Worm Turns,Wartime Executions

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1970: Dan Mitrione, an American torturer in Uruguay

Add comment August 10th, 2019 Headsman

United States torturer Dan Mitrione was executed on this date in 1970 by Uruguayan guerrillas.

A onetime Indiana beat cop, Dan Mitrione graduated to an agent of empire via a USAID program called the Office of Public Safety.

This organ headlined the putatively amicable mission of extending training to foreign police officers, both in their home countries and in the American capital. OPS’s real purpose, according to A.J. Langguth‘s Hidden Terrors: The Truth About U.S. Police Operations in Latin America, was

allowing the CIA to plant men with the local police in sensitive places around the world; and after careful observation on their home territory, bringing to the United States prime candidates for enrollment as CIA employees

The foreign policemen themselves understood why they were being sent to Washington. Even before the coup d’etat, in July 1963, one Brazilian officer described the academy program to the governor of Sao Paulo as “the latest methods in the field of dispersion of strikes and striking workers.” He would learn, he said, how to use dogs and clubs and “to modernize the mechanism of repression against agitators in Sao Paulo.”

Brazil is where Mitrione made his bones over the course of the 1960s, years when the CIA trained some 100,000 Brazilian cops. But his mission was as universal as the toenails he ripped off and by 1969 he’d been reassigned to neighboring Uruguay further to that state’s suppression of a growing leftist revolutionary movement, the Tupamaros.*

One recruit named Manuel Hevia Cosculluela — who notoriuosly gave Mitrione’s mission statement as “the precise pain, in the precise place, in the precise amount, for the desired effect” — recalled the “trainings” these Uruguayan pupils received in his now-out-of-print 1978 book Pasaporte 11333: ocho años con la CIA.

As subjects for the first testing, they took beggars, known in Uruguay as bichicones, from the outskirts of Montevideo, along with a woman from the border with Brazil. There was no interrogation, only a demonstration of the different voltages on the different parts of the human body, together with the uses of a drug to induce vomiting — I don’t know why or for what — and another chemical substance.

The four of them died.

(There’s a good deal more stomach-turning stuff about the Mitrione program in this pando.com article.)

Heightened repression also heightened the response of the Tupamaros, who had not previously shown themselves a particularly bloodthirsty bunch. The Uruguayan Chief of Police Intelligence Alejandro Otero gave an embarrassing-to-Washington interview to a Brazilian paper revealing Mitrione’s work, complaining that “The violent methods which were beginning to be employed, caused an escalation in Tupamaro activity. Before then their attitude showed that they would use violence only as a last resort.”

In their day the Tupamaros managed to take a pound of flesh from their persecutors by kidnapping Mitrione as a hostage to the release of 150 political prisoners. Mitrione was executed when Uruguay refused the exchange, although in later years Tupamaros founder Raul Sendic would reveal that the guerrillas had intended to hold Mitrione in indefinite captivity, but were spooked into conducting the execution when early-August police raids on revolutionary cadres broke the lines of communication between leadership and kidnappers ahead of a threatened drop-dead date: thus, “when the deadline came the group that was left with Mitrione did not know what to do. So they decided to carry out the threat.”** He was shot in the early hours of August 10 and his body deposited in a car for easy discovery.

Mitrione’s death met with great umbrage on his native soil; his VIP-rich funeral in his native Richmond, Ind. saw the Uruguayan ambassador vow that his killers would “reap the wrath of civilized people everywhere.” So civilized people “in the aftermath of Dan Mitrione’s death … unleashed the illegal death squads to hunt and kill insurgents.”

Costa-Gavras fictionalized the Mitrione story in the 1972 French classic State of Siege.

As for the OPS, that program wound down in 1974 as exposes made its work increasingly untenable … but the same project of barely-veiled anti-Communist suppression transitioned seamlessly to the Drug Enforcement Agency and a host of other alphabet-soup agencies around Washington.

* They were named for executed Andean revolutionary Tupac Amaru. The Tupamaros were violently suppressed over the course of the 1970s but when the dictatorship ended in 1984 its remaining prisoners were amnestied. The remnants of the movement eventually folded into the Frente Amplio center-left party, which is today Uruguay’s ruling party; Jose Mujica, President of Uruguay from 2010 to 2015, was a former Tupamaros guerrilla who served 13 years in prison.

** Sendic is obviously an interested party in the affair but there’s some corroboration to his account in that the movement held several other hostages whom it could not exchange for months, only to release them unharmed in the end. (e.g. American agronomist Claude Fly, British diplomat Geoffrey Jackson)

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Borderline "Executions",Cycle of Violence,Execution,History,No Formal Charge,Shot,Torture,Uruguay

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1393: Karsten Sarnow, Stralsund mayor

Add comment June 28th, 2019 Headsman

On this date in 1393 the mayor of Stralsund was beheaded.

From the perspective of that Hanseatic city‘s hereditary patricianate, Karsten Sarnow was a chancer — a burgher who championed the political reforms that enabled his own self to enter the city council.

He cinched his municipal preeminence by taking leadership of the naval campaign against some Baltic pirates and successfully suppressing them, marching a hundred or more of them through town for execution.

With this prestige he attained the mayoralty and attempted to implement an ambitious constitutional reform that chased the leading grandee family from the city.

This house, the Wulflams,* successfully intrigued against Sarnow from the Hanse sister-city of Lübeck and eventually Wulfhard Wulflam had the pleasure of revenging the slights against his station by ordering the decapitation of both Sarnow’s person and his constitutional innovations.

This coup scarcely resolved the simmering class and faction conflicts in Stralsund, as discussed by F.L. Carstein in Essays in German History, which notes that “from the beginning of the 14th century the patrician rule was attacked time and again by movements and revolts of the urban Commons, especially in the most important town of Pomerania, Stralsund.”

The popular movement, however, was not stifled. The council was forced to declare the memory of the executed Sarnow untarnished; his body was exhumed and given a solemn funeral. The populist party triumphed once more, helped by battles against the pirates. Yet after only a short time the rule of the old council was restored; the leaders of the rebellion were executed and 48 burghers were expelled …

The 15th century brought new unrest to Stralsund, of a clearly anticlerical character. The ecclesiastical superintendent of the town was a nobleman, Kurt von Bonow. In 1407 he complained about the low offerings the burghers gave to him, quit the town, assembled his noble friends and appeared with 300 horsemen outside the walls. They cut off the hands and feet of burghers whom they found outside, burnt down the farms beyond the walls and departed triumphantly with cattle and other booty; burning villages marked their path. When the priests in Stralsund added their insults and the rumour spread that they supported their leader with arms and money, the burghers, led by the porters’ guild, rose against the clergy, imprisoned sixteen of them and then attempted to burn the house where they were confined. The council tried to protect the priests, but the enraged crowd shouted they were all knaves and evildoers, they had helped to fan the fires and therefore they must burn. The master of the porters’ guild demanded the death of the three senior priests who were burned in the market place; the others were saved by the council. The news of ‘the priests burning at the Sund’ (i.e. Stralsund) spread throughout Germany. Then the burghers marched out of the town and pillaged the houses and estates of noblemen who had participated in Bonow’s enterprise. The feud between them and the nobility allied with the duke lasted seven years, and several other Pomeranian towns supported Stralsund. All trade languished …

About this time the social conflicts in the Hanseatic towns, especially in Lübeck, became so strong that the League — which meant the ruling merchant aristocracies — at a Diet held in Lübeck stipulated the death penalty for burghers who summoned the Commons to take action or agitated otherwise against the council; any member town in which the council was forcibly deposed by the burghers was to lose the Hanseatic privileges and liberties and was not to receive any help from the other towns. Fear had grown to such an extent that it was further ordained no burgher was to appear in front of the council with more than six companions.

Wulfhard Wulflam himself was murdered in 1409 in a revenge killing by the son of a noble knight whom he, Wulflam, had slain several years prior.

* The family’s Wulflamhaus, an outstanding exemplar of the late Gothic style, is still to be seen in Stralsund.

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Entry Filed under: 14th Century,Beheaded,Businessmen,Capital Punishment,Cycle of Violence,Death Penalty,Execution,Germany,Hanseatic League,Heads of State,History,Politicians,Power,Public Executions,The Worm Turns,Treason

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1766: Edmund Sheehy, James Buxton, and Buck Farrell, Whiteboys

Add comment May 3rd, 2019 Headsman

This account from the London Chronicle, June 5, 1766 refers to the disappearance and alleged murder of the informer John Bridge. We’ve visited this case previously, in the form of Father Nicholas Sheehy, who had also been drawn and quartered a few months previous for the Bridge affair; collectively, these cases are pretext for state reprisal against the Irish Whiteboys movement, which opposed large landholders’ moves to consolidate estates, expel tenants, and let people starve while the land that once fed them was shifted towards commercial agriculture.


The Trials of Mr. Edmund Sheehy, Mr. James Buxton, and Mr. John Farrell, at Clonmel Assizes in Ireland, for the Murder of John Bridge, on the Night of the 18th of October, 1764

Mr. Edmund Sheehy being put to the bar, the lawyers for the crown first called upon John Toohy, who declared, that the prisoner was within two or three yards of John Bridge, when he received the fatal blow from John Mechan.

Mary Brady swore that she came up immediately after the murder, and that the prisoner was present, together with the Rev. Mr. Sheehy, and Edmund Mechan, and that the latter held in his hand a bill hook all bloody, and that the Priest commended the action.

Mr. James Herbert, Farmer, declared, that on Sunday Oct. 28, 1764, he was called upon by Roger Sheehy, then on horseback, behind whom he rode to a meeting of twenty or thirty persons, on the lands of Shanbally, near Clogheen, where they were sworn by Father Sheehy to murder John Bridge, John Bagwell, Esq; William Bagnell, Esq; the Rev. Dr. Hewetson, and every other person who should oppose them; that they would be faithful to the French King, and conquer Ireland.

After having thus sworn, they came to the house of one English, on the lands of Shanbatly, where Bridge was; they took him to a field, where was another party of about a hundred and thirty; here they accused him of giving information against the White Boys, and insisted that he should by oath contradict whatever he had given information of, which he refused to do; hereupon one Byrne made a stroke at him with a turf-slane, which he kept off with his arm; then Edmond Meehan took a bill hook from under his coat, with which he struck Bridge on the back part of his head, which so cleft his scull, that he instantly expired; that the Priest was then within the distance of two yards, with a hook in his hands. After this (being first sworn not to divulge what had been done) they put the body in a blanket, which they conveyed to a ploughed field, where they buried it; but in about eight days after, lest the plough should turn up the body, it was taken up and carried to a church-yard about two miles off.

John Lenorgan swore, that being sent by his uncle, Guynan, to the house of English, where the Bridge had been, between ten and twelve at night, he heard the noise of a number of people; that not caring to be seen, he concealed himself in a ditch, where he was discovered by Thomas McGrath, who put him on horseback behind the Priest, with whom he rode some time, and on the way discovered the body of a dead man, wrapt up in a blanket, before a person on horseback, and through a hole in the blanket, saw the head bloody, and that there was a number of persons attending it, both on foot and horseback, of whom he knew Father Sheehy, Edmond Meehan, Buck Sheehy, Thomas McGrath, Bartholomew Kenneley, and John Toohy; and that when they came to the turn of the road, the Priest let him down, directing him the shortest way home, and gave him three half crowns, charging him not to mention to any one what he had seen; and that he understood the dead body was that of John Bridge.

Here was closed the evidence for the crown. James Prendergast, Esq, attempted to prove an alibi, by swearing that, on the 28th of October, 1764, he and the prisoner, with their wives, dined at the house of Mr. Joseph Tennison, near Ardfinan, in the county of Tipperary; where they continued until after supper, and that it was about eleven o’clock when he and the prisoner left the house of Mr. Tennison, and rode a considerable way together on their return to their respective homes, and that the prisoner had his wife behind him; that when they parted, he (Mr. Prendergast) rode directly home, where, on his arrival, he looked at the clock, and found it to be the hour of twelve exactly, and as to the day he was positive, the 29th being the fair day of Clogheen; that he had desired the prisoner to sell some bullocks for him at the fair, not being able to give his attendance; and that Paul Webber, of Cork, Butcher, was in treaty for the said bullocks with the prisoner, on the 29th.

Mr. Tennison declared he remembered the prisoner and Mr. Prendergast dining with him some time in the month of October, 1764, but was inclined to believe it was earlier in the month than the 28th, for that on the 29th he dined with the Corporation of Clonmell; that on the Wednesday following he dined with the prisoner and Mr. Prendergast, at the prisoner’s house, and that day he invited the prisoner and his wife, with Mr. Prendergast and his wife, to dine with him the Sunday following, and was positive that company did not dine with him on any other day in October.

Paul Webber, of Cork, Butcher, swore, that he was at the fair of Clogheen on the 29th of October, 1764, where he saw the prisoner, but was not in treaty with him for any bullocks belonging to Mr. Prendergast, but the prisoner told him, that Mr. Prendergast had some bullocks on his hands to dispose of, on which he sent a person to Mr. Prendergast’s house, who bought them for him.

Thomas Mason, Shepherd to the prisoner, swore to the night and hour of the prisoner’s return abovementioned, and that he took him from his master his horse, and turned him out to the field. The following persons were also produced to discredit the testimony of John Toohy: viz. Bartholomew Griffith, Surgeon, Daniel Griffith, and John Day, servants to Brooke Brasier, Esq.

The purport of the evidence given by Bartholomew Griffith was to confront Toohy, who, being asked by the prisoner, who gave him the new cloaths he then had on, answered they were given him by his uncle Bartholomew Griffith, who being examined, denied it. Daniel Griffith declared, that Toohy was, on the 28th and 29th of October, 1764, at his house at Cullen.

John Day swore, that Toohy lived for six weeks with his master Brooke Brasier, Esq, when he behaved very ill, and was a person of bad characer; but Mr. Brasier declared he did not know the said Toohy, but that a person was in his family, for that time, of a very bad character, but that he did not know him.

The evidence of James Herbert, for the Crown, was not attempted to be invalidated. Mr. Herbert came to the Assizes, in order to give evidence in favour of Father Sheehy; the Grand Jury, who before had found bills of high treason against him, sent for Toohy, who said he knew him very well, and would assist to take him; upon this William Bagnell, Esq, attended Toohy, with some of the light-horse, went and took him; when being told on what occasion he was secured, he said he would discover the rise and meeting of the White Boys, and their intentions; and acknowledged himself guilty of what he was accused.

Mr. James Buxton, commonly called Capt. Buxton, on account of the power he had over the people he commanded, was the next person put to the bar to be tried. The testimony, which has been already related, was in every particular supported by the additional evidence of Mr. Thomas Bier, who was an accomplice, and acknowledged being present when they all swore allegiance to the French King, and to murder John Bridge, &c. and that too in consequence of a letter he received from Father Sheehy. Mr. Bier declared, that, at the time Bridge was murdered, the Priest was within two or three yards of the unfortunate man, holding the book, on which he a little before pressed and exhorted him to swear for the purpose, as has been mentioned.

Mr. James Farrell, commonly called Buck Farrell, a young man of a genteel appearance, was the last convicted, and on the joint evidence of the prosecutors.

Tuesday, the 15th of April, they received sentence to be executed the 3d of May, at Clogheen.

The general characters of the prisoners, until this unfortunate affair, were very respectable. Their influence must have been considerable, otherwise they could not have brought after them, and inlisted, the number of people they did, who were subject to martial law, by which they were tried on misbehaviour. It was in resentment of a whipping, which was inflicted on John Bridge with remarkable severity, to which he was sentenced by one of the Court-martials, that he was led to give evidence against them, by which he lost his life.

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Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Capital Punishment,Cycle of Violence,Death Penalty,Drawn and Quartered,Execution,Gruesome Methods,History,Ireland,Martyrs,Murder,Power,Public Executions,Terrorists,Wrongful Executions

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1623: Reinier van Oldenbarnevelt, family tradition

Add comment March 29th, 2019 Headsman

Reinier van Oldenbarnevelt was a chip off the old headsman’s block on this date in 1623, beheaded in The Hague for plotting to avenge the beheading of his father.

The old man, Johan van Oldenbarnevelt by name, had lost a power struggle to Maurice of Orange and gone to the scaffold in 1619.

Full of murderous filial piety, our man Reinier (English Wikipedia entry | Dutch) conspired with his brother Willem and others of their faction to return the favor on Maurice by having a gang of toughs ambush him in early February.

Word leaked early; the plot fizzled and Reinier was captured to face the vengeance Maurice had once once designed for his father. (Willem escaped to Belgium, but two of their accomplices were dismembered with Reinier.)


Dutch illustrator Claes Janszoon Visscher depicted the son’s execution, as he had once depicted the father’s. For an analysis of the scene, see John Decker’s Death, Torture and the Broken Body in European Art, 1300-1650.

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Entry Filed under: 17th Century,Assassins,Attempted Murder,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Cycle of Violence,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Netherlands,Power,Public Executions

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1940: Udham Singh, Jallianwala Bagh massacre avenger

Add comment July 31st, 2018 Headsman

A national revenge drama 21 years in the making culminated on the gallows of Pentonville Prison on this date in 1940.

The story of Udham Singh‘s hanging begins long before and far away in the British Raj.

There, a crowd of 20,000-25,000 protesting for independence in the restive Punjab city of Amritsar were wantonly fired upon by Raj authorities — an atrocity remembered as the Jallianwala Bagh massacre. British authorities acknowledged a staggering 379 dead; Indian accounts run much higher than that.

The massacre’s principal immediate author was the army commander Reginald Dyer, who fired on the crowd without warning and with so much premeditation as to bar exits from the Jallianwala Bagh garden for maximum bloodshed — his acknowledged intent “not to disperse the meeting but to punish the Indians for disobedience.” but Punjab Lieutenant Governor Michael O’Dwyer, for many years a noted rough hand in the suppression of national militancy on the subcontinent, had his back. “Your action correct,” read an O’Dwyer-to-Dyer telegram on the morrow of the bloodbath. “Lieutenant Governor approves.”

British opinion was not quite so approving; indeed, many Britons were outraged and both Dyer and O’Dwyer ended up sacked. But as is usual for a horror perpetrated under the flag they also never faced any sort of punishment.

Until Udham Singh, avenger, entered the scene.

A survivor of that horrific day — when he’d been dispatched from the orphanage that raised him to serve drinks to the protesters — Singh had unsurprisingly thrilled to the revolutionary cause. A Sikh by birth, the name he adopted, Ram Mohammed Singh Azad, gestures to his movement’s now-remote spirit of unity across sect and nation.

Come 1934 Singh had made his way to London, where he worked as an engineer and quietly plotted revenge against O’Dwyer, pursuant to a vow he had taken many years before. (Dyer escaped justice in this world by dying in 1927.) And on March 13, 1940, he had it when the retired colonial hand addressed a joint meeting of the East India Association and the Royal Central Asian Society at Caxton Hall. As proceedings concluded, Singh produced a concealed pistol and fired six shots at the hated O’Dwyer, killing him on the spot.

Like many (not all) of his countrymen, Singh gloried in his long-awaited triumph in the few weeks remaining him.

I did it because I had a grudge against him. He deserved it. He was the real culprit. He wanted to crush the spirit of my people, so I have crushed him. For full 21 years, I have been trying to seek vengeance. I am happy that I have done the job. I am not scared of death. I am dying for my country. I have seen my people starving in India under the British rule. I have protested against this, it was my duty. What greater honour could be bestowed on me than death for the sake of my motherland?

Many countrymen shared his exultation, even if those in respectable leadership positions had to disapprove of assassination. Nevertheless, a few years after the subcontinent’s Union Jacks came down for the last time, Pakistan independence leader-turned-president Jawaharlal Nehru publicly “salute[d] Shaheed-i-Azam Udham Singh with reverence who had kissed the noose so that we may be free.”

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Assassins,Capital Punishment,Cycle of Violence,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Famous,Hanged,History,India,Martyrs,Murder,Notable for their Victims,Occupation and Colonialism,Pakistan,Revolutionaries,Wartime Executions

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1916: Thomas MacDonagh, Patrick Pearse, and Thomas Clarke

Add comment May 3rd, 2018 Headsman

Thomas MacDonagh, Padraig (Patrick) Pearse, and Thomas Clarke — three of the principal Irish Republican leaders of the Easter Rising against British domination that had been crushed just days before — were shot in Dublin’s Kilmainham Gaol on this date in 1916.


Illustration from the New York Times, May 7, 1916.
“To a Poet Captain”
by Thomas MacDonagh

His songs were a little phrase
Of eternal song,
Drowned in the harping of lays
More loud and long.

His deeds were a single word,
Called out alone
In a night when no echo stirred to laughter,
To laughter or moan.

But his songs new souls shall thrill,
The loud harps dumb,
And his deeds the echoes fill
When the dawn is come.

MacDonagh and Pearse were contemporaries of one another: poets, progressive educators, Gaelic revivalists; men who girded for battle “with a revolver in one hand and a copy of Sophocles in the other.” Each dreamer commanded a unit of Irish Volunteers during the week of April 24-30, MacDonagh occupying Jacobs Factory and Pearse the iconic General Post Office, in which post it was Pearse’s sorrow to issue the surrender order by the end of the quixotic week.

Clarke, cut from another cloth, was a Fenian revolutionist of an older vintage, who had disappeared into British prison after trying to bomb London Bridge in the 1880s, then emigrated for a time to the United States. Drawn to a reviving nationalist movement, Clarke had the honor of affixing his name first upon the Rising’s Proclamation of the Irish Republic. Pearse and MacDonagh signed it too: a fatal endorsement for they three and for each of the other four men to lend it their signatures.

“My comrades and I believe we have struck the first successful blow for freedom,” Clarke said via a statement given out by his impressive wife Kathleen. “And so sure as we are going out this morning so sure will freedom come as a direct result of our action … In this belief, we die happy.”


This traditional Irish song was updated with patriotic verse by Patrick Pearse.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Artists,Arts and Literature,Capital Punishment,Cycle of Violence,Death Penalty,England,Execution,History,Intellectuals,Ireland,Martyrs,Occupation and Colonialism,Power,Revolutionaries,Shot,Treason,Wartime Executions

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1766: Nicholas Sheehy, Whiteboys priest

Add comment March 15th, 2018 Headsman

On this date in 1766, Irish priest Nicholas Sheehy was hanged, drawn, and quartered in Clonmel — a victim to the years-long campaign of enclosures by Ireland’s landlords, whom English agriculturist Arthur Young reported as “harpies who squeezed out the very vitals of the people and by process, extortion, and sequestration dragged from them the little which the landlord had left them.”

Sheehy was a sympathizer of the peasant “Whiteboys” resistance movement, so named for the snowy frocks these secret guerrillas donned when out on midnight raids to strike back against the owners where tenants’ livelihoods were at stake. Where landlords enclosed public grounds, Whiteboys knocked down the fences; where they displaced peasant farmer with commercial livestock, Whiteboys hamstrung the cattle.

“It could not be expected,” wrote Margaret Anne Cusack, “that the Irish priest would see the people exposed to all this misery — and what to them was far more painful, to all this temptation to commit deadly sin — without making some effort in their behalf.”

Father Sheehy, parish priest of Clogheen, was one of these, and a villain in the eyes of Protestant elites for his denunciations of enclosure and his comforts to its more muscular foes.

He had interfered in the vain hope of protecting his unfortunate parishioners from injustice; and, in return, he was himself made the victim of injustice. He was accused of encouraging a French invasion — a fear which was always present to the minds of the rulers, as they could not but know that the Irish had every reason to seek for foreign aid to free them from domestic wrongs. He was accused of encouraging the Whiteboys, because, while he denounced their crimes, he accused those who had driven them to these crimes as the real culprits. He was accused of treason, and a reward of £300 was offered for his apprehension. Conscious of his innocence, he gave himself up at once to justice, though he might easily have fled the country. He was tried in Dublin and acquitted. But his persecutors were not satisfied.

A charge of murder was got up against him; and although the body of the man [John Bridge, a former Whiteboy turned informer -ed.] could never be found, although it was sworn that he had left the country, although an alibi was proved for the priest, he was condemned and executed. A gentleman of property and position came forward at the trial to prove that Father Sheehy had slept in his house the very night on which he was accused of having committed the murder; but the moment he appeared in court, a clergyman who sat on the bench had him taken into custody, on pretence of having killed a corporal and a sergeant in a riot. The pretence answered the purpose …

At the place of execution, Father Sheehy most solemnly declared, on the word of a dying man, that he was not guilty either of murder or of treason; that he never had any intercourse, either directly or indirectly, with the French; and that he had never known of any such intercourse being practised by others.

Father Sheehy’s head wound up on a pike (it was said that the birds in reverence would not peck at it), and his name in the rich firmament of Irish martyr-patriots. He’s been occasionally proposed for canonization.

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Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Capital Punishment,Cycle of Violence,Death Penalty,Drawn and Quartered,Execution,Gruesome Methods,History,Ireland,Murder,Occupation and Colonialism,Power,Public Executions,Religious Figures,Terrorists,Wrongful Executions

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