Posts filed under 'Mass Executions'

1728: Joseph Barret

1 comment February 12th, 2020 Headsman

January 17, 1728:

Joseph Barret, of St. Giles’s in the Fields, was indicted for the Murder of James Barret, (his Son, aged 11) by flinging him down, and giving him a mortal Bruise on the left Side of the Head of which he instantly died. He was a second Time indicted on the Coroner’s Inquisition for the said Murder; to both which Indictments he pleaded Not Guilty.

Thomas Belcher depos’d, That he saw the Deceas’d on the 29th of Decemb. about Noon at the Vault, that going in, his Father, the Prisoner followed him, and the Deceas’d having shoul’d himself the Prisoner kick’d him, and call’d him Dog and Son of a B – h; and going up Stairs the Deceas’d followed him, and then the Prisoner turned, and kick’d him on the Head without Provocation, repeating it again at the Stair-Case. The Prisoner desired this Deponent might be ask’d, If he did not know the Deceas’d followed bad Courses? To which be answered, He only heard of this once staying out all Night.

Elizabeth Nichols depos’d, That she saw the Deceas’d in Bed some Time before this happen’d, and that he was without a Shirt, and his Arms were beat black and blue; that he got out of Bed, and would have made use of the Pot, but his Father would not suffer it, saying, he should go down, which he did, and returning, his Father said, he had foul’d himself before he got to the Vault; that the Prisoner then shov’d him, that he fell, and he then kick’d him on the Head; that this Deponent then said, The Boy is dying, the Prisoner said, he is only fallen, and taking a Cat of Nine Tails, he hit him two or three Slashes as he lay on the Ground, that after the Prisoner kick’d or stamp’d on him he never spoke more, but gave 14 or 15 Breathes, and then departed.

This was likewise confirm’d in every particular by another Evidence, they both agreeing that the Deceas’d was very weak, and could scarcely creep up and down Stairs.

Mr. Rainby the Surgeon depos’d, That he being desir’d by a Neighbouring Justice to examine the Body, he observed it to be bruised in several Places, particularly the Head: for dividing the common Teguments, a Confusion, with a small Tumour without a Wound, appeared on the Left side, extending from the sore, to the back Part; the Skull being laid bare, there was no Fracture nor Depression, which he said might probably to owing to the Tenderness of the Bony Fibres in so young a Subject, and taking off the upper part of the Cranium, and dividing the external Membrane of the Brain, a great Quantity of extravasated Blood lay between this and the Membrane that immediately covers it, which must have been occasioned by some Violence, and very likely the same that produced the external Contusion, and was undoubtedly the Cause of his Death.

Some witnesses appeared in Behalf of the Prisoner, to prove that he had before this Time been a very loving, indulgent Father to the Deceas’d: But the present Fact appearing plain, the Jury found him Guilty. Death.


Ordinary‘s Account, February 12, 1728:

Joseph Barret, (as he said) Forty-two Years of Age, of honest, but poor Parents, who gave him little Education, for he could not Read much, and knew but little of Religious Principles. When of Age, he was not put to any particular Trade, but wrought at Husbandry, or any thing he could get to do in the Country. Afterwards he past some Years at Sea, in Station of a Marine, and when he came Home and Married, he serv’d as a Labourer to Plaisterers, and such Tradesmen.

And said, that he always liv’d Soberly and work most Laboriously for his Family; that the Son, of whose Murder he was Convicted, was of a first Marriage, and turn’d most Extravagant in wicked Courses of any Boy of his Age; for some Weeks before he Died, staying out Night after Night, and sometimes coming Home in the greatest Disorder imaginable; adding that he beg’d, or got Money from People and bought Gin with it, drinking till he appear’d worse than a Beast, quite out of his Senses; and that he was a most notorious Lyar, and withal, that he was of an obstinate Temper, and Disobedient to his Parents. Upon these, and such like Accounts, he was forc’d to use the Rod of Correction against him in an extraordinary Manner, and for that purpose, prepar’d a Cat of Nine-Tails for his Chastisement, as not being in any Danger of breaking Bones.

I told him, that he had certainly been too Severe upon the Boy, and that gentler Methods might have been more proper for reducing him; the way of Correction he us’d, being the Punishment inflicted upon Men of Age and Strength, on Board of Ships. He said, that he never intended harm, but only to reclaim him (if possible) from his wild Courses; and that any excessive Correction was given him, proceeded from the Instigation of his Wife, Mother-in-Law to the Deceas’d, who (it seems) did not Love the Child, and for the spite she bore him lost her Husband, and Ruin’d her Family.

He reflected upon the Witnesses, as not having Sworn true, in the Points of Fact, for which he was Convicted; particularly, that he did not Kick nor Strike the Child down, either below, or as he was coming up Stairs, and that he did not stamp upon his Head with his Foot in the Room. He believ’d, he had treated the Child too Severely, by Advice of his Wife, without any Malice or Thought of wronging him.

I told him, how Barbarous it was to beat the Child, till his Arms and parts of his Body were in a manner Corrupted with the Blows, when he saw him Indispos’d, and scarce able to rise from the Bed. He said, that he was so Sullen as not to tell him that he was Bad, and that he knew nothing of it. Upon the whole, he acknowledg’d that he had been Cruel in his Chastisements; that he remember’d not his Kicking him on the Head with his Foot, which was the immediate Cause of his Death; he could not deny but that the Evidence had Sworn the Truth; only but said, he had never corrected the Child but three Times in an extraordinary Manner, but that whatever Misfortunes happen’d, he had no Evil Intention.

I exhorted him to Repent of all his Sins, and particularly, that unnatural and brutish Sin of killing his own Child. He appear’d to have been a very Ignorant, illeterate Fellow, and, as appears from the usuage of his Child, of a Cruel, brutish Temper. He complain’d upon his Wifes going into the Country, and doing nothing for him, after she had expos’d herself and two young Children to the greatest Hardships, by her foolish and inconsiderate Advice. He declar’d himself truely Penitent for all his Sins, particularly the great Misfortune of Murdering his Son; that he believ’d in Christ his only Saviour, and Died in Peace with all the World.

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Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Hanged,Mass Executions,Murder,Public Executions

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1945: Giovanni Cerbai, partisan

Add comment February 10th, 2020 Headsman

Italian partisan Giovanni Cerbai was shot on this date in 1945.

A communist who fought in the Garibaldi Battalion during the Spanish Civil War, “Giannetto” was interred in transit through France and spent the early part of World War II confined to the Bourbon island panopticon of Ventotene* — a misery shared by many other prospective guerrillas.

“While the flames of the war grew and approached all around, while in the cities and in the countryside workers, employees, professionals and intellectuals were agitating, moving, pressing for peace and freedom, in Italian prisons and confinement islands hundreds and thousands of anti-fascists pined in their forced inactivity,” wrote fellow Ventotene detainee Luigi Longo in his memoir. “The island of Ventotene was like the capital of this captive world. In the spring of 1943 it gathered about a thousand leaders and humble militants from all the currents of Italian anti-fascism … We shared our common sufferings, the same hopes and an equal love of freedom.”

This prison was liberated by American forces in December 1943 but Cerbai had already escaped in August, joining the partisans.

“A fighter of exceptional enthusiasm and daring,” per the hagiographic words of his posthumous military valor decoration, he had a brief but distinguished service in the field, surviving the Battle of Porta Lame. Cerbai was eventually captured, and shot at the outset of a notorious weekslong massacre of prisoners by the fascists.

There’s a street named for him in his native Bologna.

* Another communist political prisoner in this same fortress, name of Altiero Spinelli, drew up with fellow leftists in 1941 an illicit text titled “Manifesto for a free and united Europe” — more familiarly known as the Ventotene Manifesto. (Full text here.) Spinelli’s document called for a federation of European states to mitigate the potential for wars, a crucial precursor of the European Federalist Movement that Spinelli would co-found in 1943; Spinelli for this reason is a forefather of postwar European integration. And not just a forefather: he died in 1986 as a member of European parliament, having dedicated his postwar life to the project.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Guerrillas,History,Italy,Mass Executions,No Formal Charge,Occupation and Colonialism,Shot,Soldiers,Torture,Wartime Executions

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1820: The pirates of the William

Add comment February 4th, 2020 Headsman

On this date in 1820, six pirates of the brig William hanged at the Maltese capital Valletta.

This vessel had the previous July departed her Liverpool berth hauling a cargo of lucrative sugar to Malta under the command of Charles Christopher Delano. The latter evidently labored under some legal judgment he considered unjust and convinced a none-too-reluctant crew that it would be “neither a sin nor a shame” to augment their wages by turning buccaneer.

To this end, the William waylaid an Italy-bound English brigantine, the Helen, off the Spanish coast just inside the Straits of Gibraltar on August 2. All that night and throughout the next day the pirates were engaged in transferring the Helen‘s cargo to their own ship, finally boring open the hull and abandoning her to sink with all hands aboard. The contingent of the Helen was able with difficult to force their way out of confinement and take a longboat (likewise disabled by the raiders and therefore in need of constant bailing) towards the coast until they encountered the aid of friendlier mariners. All survived their brush with the William although their prosecutor would rightly observe that “the confidence on which the prisoners relied for their security (and which has led to their present arraignment) must have arisen from the belief that all evidence of their crime was extinct, and that the intention of a deliberate and comprehensive murder must be added to their already too prominent offence.”

The William, meanwhile, had proceeded to Sardinia where her crew was able to unload some of the ill-gotten gains, and thence to Malta, where they discharged the remainder, along with the legitimate sugar cargo they’d carried out of Liverpool.* However, the Maltese transactions attracted enough suspicion that after the William left harbor, British insurance men there hired a ship named Frederick to apprehend the William — which was soon accomplished.

The case itself was open and shut, and from an appendix to its record we discover the usual climax that is this site‘s stock in trade:

On Friday morning, the 4th of February, at eight o’clock, the awful sentence of the law was carried into execution, on board the brig William, upon Charles Christopher Delano, Thomas Thompson, Benjamin Wilcock, John Smith, John Lewis, and John Webb, in the mode prescribed by the following order issued upon that occasion: —

That the William, brig, being the vessel in which the unfortunate convicts committed the flagrant and most atrocious act of piracy, be painted black, hauled out and anchored in the middle of the great port of Malta, viz. that of Valetta [sic]; and that the aforesaid most unhappy convicts be carried on board of the said vessel, at such time and in such manner as may hereafter be directed; and that on Friday morning, being the fourth day of the month, between the hours of eight and twelve, the aforesaid convicts, viz. Charles Christopher Delano, the late master of the said brig; Thomas Thompson, late mate of ditto; Benjamin Wilcock, late mariner and second mate of ditto; John Webb, late mariner of ditto; John Lewis, late mariner and cook of ditto; John Smith, late mariner of ditto; John Curtis, late carpenter of ditto;** and Reuben Marshall, late mariner of ditto, be hanged as may be directed between the hours of eight and twelve on Friday morning next, being the fourth day of the month of February, in the year of Our Lord one thousand eight hundred and twenty; and after hanging till they be dead, that they be cut down, put in open shells, and protected by a proper guard from his Majesty’s ships; that they be carried to the appointed place, viz. Fort Ricasoli, where the body of the late Charles Christopher Delano, late Captain of the William, is to be hung in irons on the right hand gibbet, next to the Port of Valletta, erected for this purpose in the north-west angle of the said fort; the body of John Lewis, late cook and mariner on board the same vessel, on the left hand gibbet in the same angle; the body of Thomas Thompson, late mate, on the right hand gibbet, erected for the purpose on the north-east angle of the same part of the said fort; and the body of John Smith on the left hand gibbet in the same fort; and that the four remaining bodies be interred at the feet of the before-mentioned gibbets — the body of Benjamin Wilcock under the gibbet on which the late Charles Christopher Delano hangs; the body of John Webb under the gibbet on which the late John Lewis hangs; the body of John Curtis under that on which Thomas Thompson hangs; and the body of Reuben Marshall under the gibbet on which John Smith hangs.

It is satisfactory to state, that the unfortunate man, who commanded the piratical vessel, confessed, in the last hours of his life, in order to reconcile himself with that Supreme Being on whom alone all his hopes then depended, that he was the prime mover and instigator of this most heinous crime.

His Majesty’s most gracious clemency was extended to the persons of the other two prisoners, Reuben Marshall and John Curtis, whose fatal sentence was respited on the spot, after the execution of their associates, by a warrant to that effect from his Excellency Sir Thomas Maitland,† issued at ten o’clock on the preceding night.

The following extract from the Malta Government Gazette will explain the laudable motives which induced His Excellency to this most humane and gracious act of clemency: —

We understand that His Excellency was induced to grant this mark of favour from the conviction, after a laborious investigation into the subject, that cases had occurred, although very rarely, of such clemency having been extended, in previous instances, to some of the parties convicted of aggravated piracy.

Such a precedent was, no doubt, most grateful to his Excellency’s feelings, and in the choice of the two persons to be spared, we understand his Excellency was guided by the uncommonly good character which Marshall had possessed previous to this atrocious act in which he was concerned; and in the case of Curtis, independently of his youth, by some very peculiar circumstances which had been disclosed in his favour by the captain and the rest of his ill-fated associates.

* One of the crew members reported receiving a total of 345 dollars from his share of the booty. Even allowing that “legitimate” fourfold share he claimed for himself as the captain, Delano apparently shortchanged his associates.

** So many Johns!

† Catch a Maitland cameo in this post from the Haitian Revolution.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,At Sea,Capital Punishment,Crime,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Gibbeted,Hanged,History,Last Minute Reprieve,Malta,Mass Executions,Not Executed,Occupation and Colonialism,Pardons and Clemencies,Pelf,Piracy,Pirates,Public Executions

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1733: Henry Neal, for shoes and breeches

Add comment January 29th, 2020 Headsman

That life is often cheap is Executed Today‘s stock in trade and few hanged cheaper than Henry Neal on this date in 19733.

Two bare entries at the Old Bailey Online constitute, we suspect, something close to the entirety of the documentary trail civilization holds for this soul.

Working backwards in time, we begin with the customary account of the Ordinary of Newgate, James Guthrie, of the twelvefold Tyburn hanging on January 29, 1733:

Henry Neal, Twenty Years of Age, his Father a Porter at Billingsgate died, and left him young, and his Mother being a poor Old Woman, could give him no Education at School, after he was Four Years Old; since which time he was forced to Work for his Bread at One Shilling per Week, and as he advanc’d in Years they gave him more. He commonly serv’d the Carters and Scavingers, till about Seven or Eight Months ago a Cart run over his Leg, which disabled him for Work. He own’d the robbing of Mr. Graves’s House, as was Sworn against him, but with a variation of Circumstances; for he said, that he only took the Hat, Breeches, and some small Things; but as to the Rings, the Guinea and a Half, he never saw them, as he said. He said, that he kept the Church, and was not very wicked, neither did he know the vile ways usually practis’d by such wicked People; and that what he did was merely for poverty and want, he having been disabled for Work, having fasted for three Days, and every body refusing him Charity. This is the Account he gave of himself, but as to the truth thereof, we leave it to others to judge thereupon. He was a poor ignorant Fellow, and knew but little of Religion. He declared himself Penitent for his Sins, that he believ’d in Christ his only Saviour, and that he died in Peace with all the World.


Here’s the preceding trial record that got him the noose, with testimony by those he robbed (the last of them seemingly written progressively to capture his distinctive accent):

Henry Neal, of St. Giles’s Cripplegate, was indicted for breaking and entring the House of William Graves, and stealing a Pair of Breeches, a Hat, a Pair of Shoes, 2 Gold Rings, a Guinea and a Half, and 2s. 6d. the Goods and Money of Richard Sims, and a Pair of Leather Breeches, the Goods of Tho Cecil, November 16, about ten at Night.

Richard Sims. I look after the Dog-house Bar. About six at Night the Prisoner came into the House, and desired me to let him warm himself by the Fire, for he said he had been with a Cart to Edmonton, and was very cold. He beg’d an old Pair of Shoes, upon which, I took Notice that those he had on were very bad; but I did not give him any. He staid till eight o’Clock, and then went away, and I shut up the Door as usual, and went to Supper at the Green Man on Windmill-Hill, and after Supper I returned to the House at the Bar, and went to Bed: Next Morning the Taylor came to mend my Breeches, which I had left in my Room overnight before I went to Supper, and there was two gold Rings, a Guinea and a half, and 2s. and 6d. in a brass Box in the Side-Pocket. I look’d for my Breeches but could not find ’em, and at the same Time I mist my Hat and my Shoes. Searching farther I found the Prisoner’s old Shoes, which were tied with Packthread, at the Door, and the Cellar Door was split in two. The Shoes made me suspect the Prisoner. Next week I met with him. He confess’d that he broke the Cellar-Door with a great Stone, and then thrust the wooden Bolt back, and got and took the Goods; that he had pawn’d the Hat in Golden-lane for 6d. and the Breeches in Turnbull-Street for a 1s. He went with me to those Places, and found them there. He had my Shoes upon his Feet.

– Thompson. I took the Prisoner in Coleman-street. I knew him before, and had heard there was a Warrant out against him. He had pilfer’d some Things while he had work’d with me there. I tax’d him with robbing Mr. Sims. He at first denied it, but afterwards own’d that he broke the Cellar-door open with a Stone, and had pawn’d the Hat and Breeches, but said he was drunk when he did it.

Tho. Cecil. I do keep the Dog-house-Bar for Mr. Graves, my Lord-Mayor’s Huntsman. My Breeches did hang up where I did lye, but being Zick, I was vorced to go home and leave’m there, and he have got ‘en on now.

Court. Go and look on ’em.

Cecil. Yes, these be they, I can zafely zwear to ‘n.

The Prisoner made no Defence, and the Jury found him Guilty. Death.

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Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Hanged,Mass Executions,Public Executions,Theft

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2016: Nimr al-Nimr, Shiite cleric

Add comment January 2nd, 2020 Headsman

On this date in 2016, Saudi Arabia beheaded Shiite Muslim cleric Nimr al-Nimr (familiarly known as Sheikh Nimr) — one of 47 executions carried out in 12 cities throughout the kingdom that included at least four political prisoners (one of them al-Nimr) as well as two foreign nationals.

A prominent dissident who became an emblem of resistance in his predominantly Shiite province of Al-Awamiyah*, al-Nimr had been arrested several times before without blunting his sharp tongue. “People must rejoice at his death,” he offered in June 2012, about the death of militant Wahhabist crown prince Nayef bin Abdul-Aziz Al Saud. “He will be eaten by worms and will suffer the torments of Hell in his grave.”

But here in the terrestrial sphere, Nayef’s death made Salman the crown prince … and queued up Salman’s son, Mohammad bin Salman to become the de facto ruler of the kingdom.

Al-Nimr was seized in July 2012, during crackdowns** on the 2011-2012 “Arab Spring” protests — shot in the leg during the course of his arrest and beaten bloody by his captors. This arrest itself brought thousands into the streets, at least two of whom were shot dead in their own turn as al-Nimr went on hunger strike. By the time al-Nimr was put up on charges in 2014, the aforementioned Mohammad bin Salman — “MbS” of dread popular parlance, infamous for his bonesaws — was well along his rise to power in Saudi Arabia as the hand and the heir who transacted the business of a dementia-addled prince.

Al-Nimr’s October 2014 death sentence for “seeking ‘foreign meddling’ in the kingdom, ‘disobeying’ its rulers and taking up arms against the security forces” drew worldwide condemnation and protests over the ensuing year, a year coinciding with MbS’s overt conquest of political power in Saudi Arabia.

The execution sparked global outrage of varying hues, most sharply from Shiite Iran, where angry protesters attacked the Saudi embassy: not the decisive event but emblematic of Saudi Arabia’s growing enmity with Iran that shapes regional conflicts from Yemen to Iraq to Syria.

* Adjacent to the similarly restive Sunni-ruled, Shiite-majority Gulf monarchy of Bahrain.

** Al-Nimr’s nephew, Ali Mohammed Baqir al-Nimr, is still under a death sentence today that could be ratified by the sovereign at any time. He was arrested in February 2012 for anti-regime protests, when he was only 17 years old.

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Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Activists,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Famous,History,Martyrs,Mass Executions,Power,Public Executions,Religious Figures,Ripped from the Headlines,Saudi Arabia,Torture,Treason,Wrongful Executions

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1573: Hans Boije af Gennäs

Add comment January 1st, 2020 Headsman

On this date in 1573, the Swedish commander of Weissenstein (present-day Paide, Estonia), Hans Boije af Gennäs was executed when his fortress was overrun by Russian troops, during the Livonian War.


Ruins of (cc) image from Ivo Kruusamägi.

A walled city with a Teutonic Knights-built keep, Weissenstein sat at a crossroads in interior Livonia and changed hands several times during this decades-long multilateral conflict involving Russia, Sweden, Denmark-Norway, Poland, and Lithuania — the latter two of which united into a Commonwealth during the war.

Big picture, the Livonian War ran from 1558 to 1583; the stakes were, as one might guess, control of Livonia — essentially, the present-day Baltic states of Estonia and Latvia. Long ago this precinct had been the medieval remit of those same Teutonic Knights; after 1561, it was controlled in the south by the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth (that’s Latvia), and in the north by Sweden (that’s Estonia, containing Weissenstein).

Needless to say, this brought enormous suffering to Livonian, which Livonian chroniclers like Johann Renner, Balthasar Russow and Salomon Henning blamed mostly on the Russians. As Charles Halperin summarizes,

To the Livonian chroniclers, the Russians were barbaric, sadistic monsters, whose atrocities they described in graphic, sensational detail. According to Renner, the Russians were cruel, bloodthirsty, and inhumane. They massacred men, women, and children among fishermen. They hanged Livonian women from trees and robbed them of their clothing, silver, and gold. They impaled babies on stakes or sharp picket fences, and hacked little children in two and left them, or hacked adults into pieces. They placed a huge stone on the stomach of a pregnant women [sic] to force her foetus from her womb. They burned alive a woman hiding in an oven. They cut off the breasts of maidens and women and hacked off the hands and feet of men. They threw fifty children into a well and filled it with stones. They flayed a man and cut open his side, poured in gunpowder, and blew him apart. They decapitated captives after flaying them and cutting off their fingers and toes. They massacred peasants young and old. They flayed captives in Moscow with whips of braided flails, marched them five miles to a cemetery and then beheaded them with axes. They drove naked peasants into great fires and nailed one peasant to a post and suffocated him with smoke. They tied a captured noble to a tree, cut open his body, and let his intestines fall out. They nailed a ferryman to a door and then killed him with arrows. They killed an old forest overseer by cutting open his body, nailing one end of his intestines to a tree, and then beating him with whips to make him run, pulling out his intestines and bringing about his death. Peasants were drawn and quartered. They murdered captives by snapping their necks in such a way that they suffered for one, two, or three days before expiring. The Tatars cut out the heart of one prisoner (killing him, of course), and ate it, saying that doing so would give them courage.

Russow adds that Russians committed terrible acts of murder, theft, and arson during their invasion. They tortured and tormented Livonians, massacred them, threw poor peasant, their wives and children to their deaths off city walls, hacked to death servitors of Magnus,* roasted captives on spits for days, stole the blanket off a dead woman, deposited children on the ice to die of overexposure or drown, put out a noble’s eyes before flaying him to death, drowned, tortured, and executed captives, sabered captives, plucked out the heart of the living body of a mayor, ripped a preacher’s tongue from his throat, sold captives into slavery, raped maidens and women, threw captives to their deaths off the walls of conquered cities, and starved captives nearly to death. They left the bodies of their victims for wild beasts to eat …

According to Henning, the Russians were bloodthirsty “ignorant barbarians”, who raged like savages, and tortured and killed their enemies in inhuman fashion, including stretching them and breaking them on the wheel. They cut down even the young and the old, women and children, who surrendered with their hands raised, or subjected them to inhuman barbarities and atrocities, and then barbaric slavery. Everywhere they went, they plundered, slew, roasted, and burned. They hacked pregnant women in two, impaled foetuses on fence stakes, slit men’s sides, inserted gunpowder and blew them up, and slit men’s throats and let them bleed to death. They smeared people with thick pine pitch, bound them, and burned them. They gang-raped women and girls, and sold the survivors into slavery to the Tatars. They tore nursing babes from their mothers’ breasts, chopped off hands, feet, and heads, and gutted the remainder of the bodies, stuck bodies on spits and roasted or baked them, and then ate them to satisfy their “diabolical, bloodthirsty hunger” … They massacred innocent Livonian townsmen, wives, and children in retribution for anti-Russian plots in which they had no part. They butchered poor little schoolchildren. Despite safe-conducts to the surrendered occupants of assaulted cities, they sabered them as they departed. Captives too old or infirm to be led into captivity, even nobles, were killed on the spot. Survivors of a castle whose occupants chose to blow themselves up rather than surrendered were sabered, hacked to bits, mutilated, and left unburied to be eaten by birds, dogs, and other wild beasts.

To skip past various twists of state- and warcraft, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth was taking a breather from the fight in the early 1570s, leaving Russia and Sweden mano a mano.

The Russians invaded Swedish-defended Estonia in 1572 with Tsar Ivan the Terrible personally leading the army, and put the small garrison of Weissenstein/Paide to irresistible siege. Nevertheless, it did resist, and these defenders have the distinction of killing during this siege the sinister operative of the tsar — Malyuta Skuratov, so much the emblem of Ivan’s terrible Oprichnina that in Bulgakov’s Master and Margarita, the titular Margarita at an infernal ball can’t help but notice one “face ringed by a fiery beard, the face of Malyuta Skuratov”.


Portrait of Skuratov by a contemporary painter, the late Pavel Ryzhenko.

Considering the flaying and intestine-ripping that mere passersby were liable to expose themselves to, the Swedes earned no quarter from Ivan for compounding their resistance with the death of the tsar’s hand. Our man Hans Boije af Gennais (English Wikipedia entry | Swedish) and his chief aides were all impaled and slowly roasted over flames immediately upon Weissenstein’s New Year’s Day capture.

* Magnus, Duke of Holstein was Ivan’s unsuccessful puppet king in Livonia in the early 1570s, but he lost favor after being repeatedly thumped by the Swedes and eventually outright turned against the Russians. Ivan captured him and (alas for Executed Today) did not put him to death, but gratuitously brutalized anyone in Magnus’s train.

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Entry Filed under: 16th Century,Burned,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Estonia,Execution,Gruesome Methods,History,Impaled,Mass Executions,No Formal Charge,Occupation and Colonialism,Power,Russia,Soldiers,Summary Executions,Sweden,Torture,Wartime Executions

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1609: Captain John Harris, Captain John Jennings, and 15 other pirates at Wapping

Add comment December 22nd, 2019 Headsman

On this date* in 1609, seventeen pirates hanged at Wapping’s “Execution Dock”. Though English, a large number of them had been taken in Ireland.

Elizabethan England had cultivated a reputation for the quantity and ferocity of her buccaneers, profitably plundering Spain’s New World treasure galleons and establishing themselves as a terror in the Mediterranean and the North Atlantic — some, like Sir Francis Drake, with official blessing as privateers, and many others operating off-book knowing that a crown thirsty for specie would turn a blind eye to their business.

This sector was a rising tide that lifted many boats: commoners on the make and lords of the realm alike invested in pirating, and the proceeds washed over Britain’s wharfs to all the landlubbers who called pirates family, or who received their stolen plunder, or who sold ale to the conquering corsairs.

In 1603, the arrangement changed.

With Elizabeth’s death the crown passed to a man who disdained the profession and wanted to bring English hostilities with Spain to a close. James I had not yet even been crowned king in England when he published notice of a sea change in the piracy policy.

We are not ignorant that our late dear Sister, the late Queen of England, had of long time wars with the king of Spain, and during that time gave Licences and Commissions to divers of her, and our now Subjects, to let out and furnish to sea divers ships warlikely appointed, for the surprising and taking of the said King’s subjects’ goods, and for the enjoying of the same, being taken and brought home as lawful Prize.

We further will and command, that our men of war, as be now at sea having no sufficient commission as aforesaid, and have taken, or shall go to sea hereafter, and shall take any the ships or goods of any subject of any Prince in league or amity with us, shall be reputed and taken as pirates and both they and all their accessories, maintainers, comforters, and partakers shall suffer death as pirates and accessories to piracy, with confiscation of all their lands and goods, according to the ancient Laws of this Realm.

These are fine words for the diplomatic pouch but veteran raiders weren’t just going to throw over their only profession** and in practice James lacked the naval muscle to enforce his writ very far from English shores. Ireland, and in particular its most distant southwest province of Munster, had become a fine pirate haven jutting into Atlantic hunting-grounds, where the denizens of ports like Baltimore and Crookhaven merrily continued to welcome English sea rovers.

“Although these things happen more often in England than Ireland, by reason there is more plenty of Ports and Shipping, as also more abundance of Seamen,” wrote the English mariner Henry Mainwaring, who was alternately a pirate and a hunter of pirates.

yet in proportion Ireland doth much exceed it, for it may be well called the Nursery and Storehouse of Pirates, in regard of the general good entertainment they receive there; supply of victuals and men which continually repair thither out of England to meet with Pirates. As also, for that they have as good or rather better intelligence where your Majesty’s Ships are, than contrariwise they shall have of the Pirates. In regard of the benefit the Country receives by the one, and the prejudice, or incumber as they count it, of the other. Unto which must also be added the conveniency of the place, being that the South, the West, and the North Coasts, are so full of places and Harbours without command, that a Pirate being of any reasonable force, may do what he listeth. Besides that, many of that Nation are scarce so well reduced to any civil jurisdiction, as to make a conscience of trading with them.

And here we come to our post’s principal characters … who, it turns out, could not indeed do exactly what he listeth.

Bristol-born and ranging all the way to the Barbary Coast, Captain James Harris favored the port of Baltimore,† along Ireland’s southern coast, as a handy sanctuary where he “repaired and fresh victuald our ship” … but he should have favored it less. Having recently called there, Harris returned too soon, over the objections of his crew, who accurately warned that his name having been bandied about town was liable to attract some attention. He found an English warship waiting for his return but he was a game sport about the turn of fate that brought his end to show that he was no hypocrite since formerly, “making my felicity out of others mens miseries, while I thought prosperity at sea, as sure in my gripe, as the power to speak was free to my gontue, my actions were so imboldened, and my heart so hardned, that I held it a cowardise to dispaire to attempt, and effeminacy to pitie whosoever did perish.” Harris flung his hat to the crowd come to watch him die, and when someone shouted a question about a reprieve, he jauntily replied that he had “None, sir, but from the King of Kings.”

Preceding him at the Wapping gallows with a like prediction of eternal salvation, Captain John Jennings had a more operatic undoing when, likewise victualing at Baltimore, he insisted on taking his Irish lover aboard and triggered all the seamen’s superstitions when the pirates immediately ran into one of His Majesty’s warships, and soon thereafter barely survived a bloody scrap with two Spanish vessels that cost the pirates 10 crew members dead. The surviving crew huddled up and agreed that their rum luck “was a just judgement of God against them, in suffering their Captaine to bring his whore aboard.”

A mutiny overthrew his authority, and although it was eventually restored after the new guy proved himself a Queeg, the morale hit was obviously permanent, for much of his band deserted him the next time he put in at (again) Baltimore. With skeleton crew, he limped along the coast to the Earl of Thomond where he hoped for a hospitable reception; instead, his remaining mates betrayed him (and his last two loyal retainers) into English hands when the dissipated captain was blind drunk.

* The key source on this event is “The Lives, Apprehensions, Arraignments and Executions of the 19 late Pyrates, namely, Capt. Harris, Jennings, Longcastle, Downes, Haulsey, and their companions, as they were severally indited on St. Margret’s Hill, in Southwark, on the 22 of December last and executed the Friday following.” The title implies, wrongly, that the pirates were tried on Friday the 22nd and executed on Friday the 29th; in fact it is explicit right in the text that Captain Jennings “from a free and vnburthened heart, a patient mind and willing steps, I goe out of my chamber in the Marshalstes, the Friday morning being the two and twenty day of December to make my death-bed at Wapping.”

** Besides freebooting, English privateers were also keen to obtain new commissions from the Low Countries in the latter’s long-running revolt against Spain. But whether licensed or no, most regular sailors were scarcely in a position to hang up their cutlasses. “Those that were rich rested with what they had,” Captain John Smith wrote about the aftermath of James’s settlement with Spain. “Those that were poore and had nothing but from hand to mouth, turned Pirats; some, because became sleighted for those for whom they had got much wealth; some for that they could not get their due; some, all that lived bravely, would not abase themselves to poverty; some, vainly, only to get a name; others for revenge, covetousness, or as ill.” Plus ça change
.
† Baltimore figures in our story as a pirate-friendly landing; however, it’s most famous in buccaneering annals as the target for an infamous 1631 raid by Algiers corsairs, who carried off most of the villagers as slaves . See The Stolen Village: Baltimore and the Barbary Pirates.

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1739: Elizabeth Harrard

Add comment December 21st, 2019 Richard Clark

(Thanks to Richard Clark of Capital Punishment U.K. for the guest post, a reprint of an article originally published on that site with some explanatory links added by Executed Today. CapitalPunishmentUK.org features a trove of research and feature articles on the death penalty in England and elsewhere. -ed.)

The recovery of the body of a tiny baby boy was carried out by the Beadle of Isleworth, Mr. John Thackery, on Saturday the 14th of July 1739. He had been summoned to the bank of the Powder Mills River by a local farmer, one Mr. Ions who had discovered the baby floating in the river. Mr. Ions had taken the baby from the water and placed it on the grass beside the bank. The Beadle examined the corpse and noted that it had only been in the water a short while and was not bloated. He also noted that the little boy had received a severe blow to the left side of the head and that there was congealed blood around the wound. John Thackery took the child to the Stock House and the Middlesex Coroner, Mr. Wright, was informed of the death. Whilst there Mr. Thackery was told that there was a suspicion that one Elizabeth Harrard, of Isleworth was the mother of the baby and he duly investigated this. Elizabeth was detained by the Overseers of the Poor for neighbouring Teddington and bought back to Isleworth. She was in a very weak condition and Thackery was ordered to get her a bed as she was too ill to be sent to Newgate prison.

After Elizabeth’s arrest a Mrs. Elizabeth Nell examined the prisoner in her capacity as a midwife. Elizabeth told Mrs. Nell that she had given birth to a baby, claiming that it had been born on the previous Monday in a field and that she had been disturbed by some men and left the baby. Mrs. Nell replied that she did not believe this story and Elizabeth told her that the child was stillborn. Again Mrs. Nell said she did not believe this as she could tell from the corpse that the baby had been born alive. It seems that Elizabeth did not realise that Mrs. Nell was a professional midwife and when this was pointed out to her, Elizabeth gave another version of events. She now told Mrs. Nell that the baby had been born alive and had survived for just fifteen minutes. Elizabeth was resting by the river bank after giving birth and had the child on her lap when it rolled off and fell into the river. Mrs. Nell persisted with her questioning and the story changed a little, with Elizabeth now saying that the baby had lived for thirty minutes and that she wrapped it part of her apron and threw it into the river after it had been dead for an hour. Mrs. Nell had examined the corpse after it was recovered and noted that there was no water in it, in other words it had not drowned and felt that the cause of death was a severe blow to the head.

The Inquest was held on Wednesday the 18th of July and the coroner directed Mr. Thackery to show the body to Elizabeth. She begged him not to saying “’tis my own child, born of my own body.” Thackery asked her how she could tell that it was her child without seeing it. Elizabeth continued to insist that it was her child and implored the Beadle not to open the coffin.

The coroner’s court found that the child had been murdered by its mother and Elizabeth was committed for trial at the Old Bailey. This took place on the 6th of September 1739 and evidence was brought against her by John Thackery, Mrs. Elizabeth Nell and Mrs. Elizabeth Thackery (the Beadle’s wife), with Samuel Goodwin giving evidence for Elizabeth. John Thackery related the above story to the court.

Mrs. Thackery, the Beadle’s wife, also gave evidence against Elizabeth. Her husband had initially taken Elizabeth to a pub called the Sign of the Bell after her arrest and had asked his wife to look after her. She told the court that she had asked Elizabeth if she was the mother of the baby that had been found and Elizabeth agreed that she was. She also named the father as one John Gadd whom she had lived with for some time but who had deserted her when she became pregnant. She had also had a previous pregnancy by him which had miscarried. Elizabeth confessed to Mrs. Thackery that the baby had been born alive and that she had put it into the river. She told Mrs. Thackery that she was very poor indeed and had nothing to wrap the baby in, other than an old piece of apron.

In her own statement Elizabeth told the court that on the day the baby died she had walked to Richmond to seek work and had to rest because she had gone into labour. The Beadle of Richmond came to her and refused to get a woman to help her, instead threatening her and telling her to leave the parish immediately. She was similarly treated by Beadle of Twickenham and left in the field by the river to sort out her problems by her self. She told the court that she was in a very poor physical condition by this time and that she did not know whether the baby was dead or alive. Mrs. Nell confirmed that Elizabeth had told her of the Beadle of Richmond refusing her any form of assistance.

The only witness for the defence, other than Elizabeth herself, was Samuel Goodwin. He told the court that he has seen Elizabeth with John Gadd on several occasions and that she had told him that Gadd had taken the apron from her after the baby was born, torn off a piece of it and wrapped the baby in it before taking it away. He implied that it was therefore Gadd who had thrown it into the river and not Elizabeth. Against the rest of the evidence this was not really convincing and the jury returned a verdict of guilty against Elizabeth.

The Folly, Extravagance, and Luxury of young Gentlemen at this Time, especially of those about the Inns of Court, is but too notorious: Would they take warning by my Example, they would undoubtedly prevent those shocking Evils that are the sure Attendants upon Extravagance and Debauchery. Let them in the full Career of their Pleasures, reflect upon me. I have enjoy’d all the mad Delights the World could supply me with, have exhausted my Patrimony, impair’d my Health, and embarrass’d my Circumstances, in the Pursuit of Pleasure, and the Gratification of the Passions; the Consequence of which Conduct and Indulgence, (with bitterness of Soul I speak it) is my inevitable Destruction. Dear Friends, let Moderation and Temperance guide you in pursuit of Pleasure, acquiesce in the Dispensations of Providence, rest satisfy’d with the Portion that Heaven has bless’d you with, and be scrupulously tender of every Man’s Property. I am now upon the Point of bidding an eternal Adieu to the World, and what I speak is, from the very bottom of my Soul, and from the clear Ideas I have of the Beauty and Excellence of Virtue and Sobriety, and the pernicious Result of Vice and Immorality. Finally, my Brethren, whatsoever Things are honest, whatsoever Things are just, whatsoever Things are lovely, whatsoever Things are of good Report, if there be any Praise, if there be any Honour, think on these Things.

-last letter of William Barkwith, another condemned executed on Elizabeth Harrard’s same hanging-day

She was returned to Newgate to await sentence at the end of the Sessions and was duly condemned to hang. The Recorder did not recommend leniency in Elizabeth’s case and so she was scheduled for execution on the next “hanging day” which was to be Friday the 21st of December 1739. With her in the carts that morning were John Albin, John Maw, William Barkwith, James Shields, Charles Spinnel and Thomas Dent, all of whom had been convicted of highway robbery, Richard Turner who was to hang for stealing in dwelling house and Edward Goynes who had murdered his wife.

The usual procession set off for the journey to Tyburn where the prisoners were prepared by John Thrift and his assistants before all ten were launched into eternity together as the carts were drawn from under them. After they were suspended Susanna Broom was led to a stake that had been set up near the gallows and strangled and then burned for the Petty Treason murder by stabbing of her husband, John.

Elizabeth was one of seven women who were hanged nationally in 1739, and one of four to die for the murder of her bastard child.

Comment. It is impossible in this day and age to imagine the mental and physical condition that Elizabeth was in at the time the baby died. She was totally destitute, abandoned by her boyfriend, in great pain, very weak from having just given birth and denied assistance of any kind by the authorities. If indeed she did kill her baby it is not hard to understand the total desperation that led her to do so. However none of these factors, all of which were either known to the court at the time, or were basically self evident facts, were seen as an excuse for her crime in 1739.

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1920: Joseph Usefof

Add comment December 9th, 2019 Robert Elder

(Thanks to Robert Elder of Last Words of the Executed — the blog, and the book — for the guest post. This post originally appeared on the Last Words blog. Fans of this here site are highly likely to enjoy following Elder’s own pithy, almanac-style collection of last words on the scaffold. -ed.)

“You see an innocent man dying tonight. Thank you, warden. You have been a kind man.”

— Joseph Usefof, convicted of murder, electric chair, New York. Executed December 9, 1920.

Usefof was executed along with three other men for the 1918 murder of subway ticket agent Otto Fialo in the Bronx. Joseph Milano, one of Usefof’s co-defendants, exonerated Usefof in a written confession, which he later retracted. Usefof maintained his innocence; he was the first of his group to be executed because he was considered the most likely to suffer a breakdown.

[Executed with Usefof and Milano were James Cassidy and Charles McLaughlin, along with a fifth man electrocuted for an unrelated murder, Howard Baker. -ed.]

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1948: The Eilabun Massacre

Add comment October 30th, 2019 Headsman

This account of a dozen-strong summary execution at the Upper Galilee village of Eilabun by the Israeli Defense Forces during the Arab-Israeli War hails from The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem Revisited by Israel’s best-known “New Historian”, Benny Morris:

Christian villages, traditionally friendly or not unfriendly towards the Yishuv, were generally left in peace. An exception was ‘Eilabun, a mainly Maronite community, which fell to Golani‘s 12th Battalion on 30 October after a battle on its outskirts with the ALA [Arab Liberation Army], in which the Israelis suffered six injured and four armoured cars knocked out. The villagers hung out white flags and the Israelis were welcomed by four priests. The inhabitants huddled inside the churches while the priests surrendered the village. But the troops were angered by the battle just concluded and by reports of a procession in the village, a month before, in which a large number of inhabitants had participated, in which the heads of two IDF soldiers who had gone missing after the attack on 12 September on a nearby hilltop — ‘Outpost 213’ — were carried through the streets, or by the actual discovery in a house of one of the rotting heads. What happened next is described in a letter from the village elders to [Israeli Minister of Police Bechor-Shalom] Shitrit: The villagers were ordered to assemble in the square. While assembling, one villager was killed and another wounded by IDF fire.

Then the commander selected 12 young men and sent them to another place, then he ordered that the assembled inhabitants be led to [the neighbouring village of] Maghar and the priest asked him to leave the women and babies and to take only the men, but he refused, and led the assembled inhabitants — some 800 in number — to Maghar preceded by military vehicles … He himself stayed on with another two soldiers until they killed the 12 young men in the streets of the village and then they joined the army going to Maghar … He led them to Farradiya. When they reached Kafr‘Inan they were joined by an armoured car that fired upon them … killing one of the old men, Sam‘an ash Shoufani, 60 years old, and injuring three women … At Farradiya [the soldiers] robbed the inhabitants of 500 and the women of their jewelry, and took 42 youngsters and sent them to a detention camp, and the rest the next day were led to Meirun, and afterwards to the Lebanese border. During this whole time they were given food only once. Imagine then how the babies screamed and the cries of the pregnant and weaning mothers.

Subsequently, troops looted ‘Eilabun.

Not all the villagers were taken on the trek to Lebanon. The four priests were allowed to stay. Hundreds fled to nearby gullies, caves and villages, and during the following days and weeks infiltrated back. The affair exercised the various Israeli bureaucracies for months, partly because the ‘Eilabun case was taken up and pleaded persistently by Israeli and Lebanese Christian clergymen. The villagers asked to be allowed back and receive Israeli citizenship. They denied responsibility for severing the soldiers’ heads, blaming one Fawzi al Mansur of Jenin, a sergeant in Qawuqji‘s army [i.e., the ALA].

The affair sparked a guilty conscience and sympathy within the Israeli establishment. Shitrit ruled that former inhabitants still living within Israeli-held territory must be allowed back to the village. But Major Sulz, Military Governor of the Nazareth District, responded that the army would not allow them back. He asserted, ambiguously, that ‘Eilabun had been ‘evacuated either voluntarily or with a measure of compulsion’. A fortnight later, he elaborated, mendaciously: ‘The village was captured after a fierce fight and its inhabitants had fled.’ The Foreign Ministry opined that even if an ‘injustice’ had been committed, ‘injustices of war cannot be put right during the war itself’.

However, Shitrit, supported by Mapam’s leaders and egged on by the village notables and priests, persisted. Cisling suggested that the matter be discussed in Cabinet. Shitrit requested that the villagers be granted citizenship (relieving them of the fear of deportation as illegal infiltrees), that the ‘Eilabun detainees be released and that the villagers be supplied with provisions. Within weeks, Shitrit was supported by General Carmel, who wrote that ‘in light of the arguments [about their mistreatment]’ and of the fact that the area was not earmarked for Jewish settlement, the inhabitants should be left in place ‘and accepted as citizens’. Within weeks, the inhabitants received citizenship and provisions, and the detainees were released. At the same time, Shitrit, as Minister of Police, persuaded Yadin, to initiate an investigation of the massacre. During the summer of 1949, the ‘Eilabun exiles in Lebanon who wished to return were allowed to do so, as part of an agreement between Palmon, head of the Arab Section of the Political Department of the Foreign Ministry, and Archbishop Hakim, concerning the return of several thousand Galilee Christians in exchange for that cleric’s future goodwill towards the Jewish State. Hundreds returned to ‘Eilabun.

The abortive attack on ‘Outpost 213’, bizarrely enough, triggered a second atrocity four days after the first massacre. On 2 November,vtwo squads of the 103rd Battalion were sent on a search operation to Khirbet Wa‘ra as Sauda, a village inhabited by the ‘Arab al Mawasi beduins, three kilometres east of the outpost. While one squad kept guard over the villagers, the other — led by Lt. Haim Hayun, veteran of the September assault — climbed up to the outpost, where it discovered ‘the bones of the soldiers lost in the previous action’. The bodies were ‘headless’. The troops then torched the village (and presumably expelled the inhabitants), taking with them to their HQ in Maghar 19 adult males. There, the prisoners were sorted out and 14 were determined to have ‘taken part in enemy activity against our army’. They were taken away and ‘liquidated’ (huslu). The remaining five were transferred to a POW camp.

‘Eilabun and ‘Arab al Mawasi were only two of the atrocities committed by the IDF during Hiram, which saw the biggest concentration of atrocities of the 1948 war. Some served to precipitate and enhance flight; some, as in ‘Eilabun, were part and parcel of an expulsion operation; but in other places, the population remained in situ and expulsion did not follow atrocities.

Details about most the atrocities remain sketchy; most of the relevant IDF and Israel Justice Ministry documentation — including the reports of various committees of inquiry — remain classified. But there is some accessible, civilian documentation — and a few military documents have escaped the censorial sieve. It emerges that the main massacres occurred in Saliha, Safsaf, Jish and the (Lebanese) village of Hule, between 30 October and 2 November. In the first three villages, Seventh Brigade troops were responsible. At Saliha it appears that troops blew up a house, possibly the village mosque, killing 60–94 persons who had been crowded into it. In Safsaf, troops shot and then dumped into a well 50–70 villagers and POWs. In Jish, the troops apparently murdered about 10 Moroccan POWs (who had served with the Syrian Army) and a number of civilians, including, apparently, four Maronite Christians, and a woman and her baby. In Hule, just west of the Galilee Panhandle, a company commander and a sergeant of the Carmeli Brigade’s 22nd Battalion shot some three dozen captured Lebanese soldiers and peasants and then demolished a house on top of them, killing all. Civilians appear to have been murdered in Sa‘saas well.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Borderline "Executions",Execution,History,Innocent Bystanders,Israel,Mass Executions,No Formal Charge,Occupation and Colonialism,Palestine,Shot,Summary Executions,Wartime Executions

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