Posts filed under 'Public Executions'

1066: John Scotus, sacrificed to Radegast

Add comment November 10th, 2020 Headsman

On this date in 1066, John Scotus was sacrificed to the Slavic god Radegast.

That’s Scotus not as in the Supreme Court of the United States, but as in Scotland: our man Johannes (English Wikipedia entry | German) was an Hibernian prelate, possibly previously the Bishop of Orkney and/or the Bishop of Glasgow, who came to Saxony in 1053 as the first Bishop of Mecklenburg.

The land was governed by the Slavic Obotrites (Abodrites), commonly known in western chronicles as the Wends. Predominantly pagan, they were at the time of John’s invitation ruled by a Christian king, Gottschalk. This man’s father had converted to Christianity, and Gottschalk himself during his life had apostatized and then re-converted — illustrating the fraught balance between the confessions. A century hence, these northern unbelievers would face the blades of Christendom’s crusaders.


Eisenstein’s Alexander Nevsky is the enduring silver screen remnant of the Northern Crusades of the 12th-13th centuries, but the very first of these campaigns was an 1147 crusade against the Wends.

As one might infer, then, Gottschalk’s aspiration to bring his kingdom over to his faith* did not go to plan, even though (according to the near-contemporary chronicle by Adam of Bremen) he “baptized many thousands of pagans.” Many more thousands than that remained un-moved by his sermons in alien Latin; overall, pagans held perhaps a 2:1 or greater preponderance over Christians among these people.

Wound-up Wends rebelled in 1066, deposing and murdering Gottschalk while his heirs fled into exile. John Scotus was not so nimble as the latter, and his political protection having disappeared, “the aged Bishop John was taken with other Christians in Magnopolis [Mecklenburg Castle] and held for a triumph. And because he confessed Christ he was beaten with rods and then was led in mockery through one city of the Slavs after another. Since he could not be turned from the profession of Christ his hands and feet were lopped off and his body was thrown into the road. His head, however, the barbarians cut off, fixed on a spear, and offered to their god Redigast in token of their victory. These things were done in the chief city of the Slavs, Rethra, on the fourth Ides** of November.” (Cf. Adam of Bremen)

The Obotrites were definitively back in the pagan camp for the foreseeable. There was no successor Bishop of Mecklenburg for nearly a century.

* Religion was also a wedge for Gottschalk’s political perspective, of mastering pagan nobility within his realm, and allying to neighboring Christian princes abroad.

** The Ides of November was the 13th; by Latin locution, using Romans’ inclusive numbering, the “second Ides” was the “second” [first] day before that, i.e., the 12th — and the “fourth Ides” the 10th.

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Entry Filed under: 11th Century,Beheaded,Borderline "Executions",Disemboweled,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Germany,God,Gruesome Methods,History,Martyrs,Public Executions,Religious Figures,Torture

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1738: George Whalley and Dean Briant, wife-murderers

Add comment November 8th, 2020 Headsman

At a hanging-day at Tyburn on this date in 1738, 11 men (no women) were executed en masse.

Nine committed different varieties of malappropriation: burglaries, highway robberies, horse-thefts, even a charge of coining, all of whom can be read about in thumbnail at that date’s account by the Newgate Ordinary.

The other two were men who murdered their wives. While the prelate here does single them out for committing the elevated crime of homicide, he does not especially dwell on the domestic and gendered nature of these men’s attacks upon their wives. The excerpts below from the mouths of neighbors who were privy to the relationships in question open a terrifyingly intimate window on a pair of violent relationships.

These of course are far from the only domestic murders in the voluminous archives of the Old Bailey. However, most violence by husbands against wives obviously fell short of the criminal annals, and the nature and extent of that violence is difficult to reckon. From the perspective of decades and centuries, historians perceive a long-term — too long-term — decline in “everyday” wife-battering.

“It has been noted that even by the mid-eighteenth century the physical violence alleged in marriage separation suits was not necessarily life threatening, and tended to be less serious than that described in the seventeenth century,” notes the topical volume Marital Violence: An English Family History, 1660-1857. (Review.) Yet “while all historians of violence agreed with Stone* that there was a decline in the number of recorded [conjugal] homicides, and that this was particularly marked for the period between the Restoration and the start of the nineteenth century, it took further research for historians to conclude that there was little change over time in the proportion of homicides that were domestic.” So that suggests less a special abhorrence of violence in the home, and more a wider social evolution making masculine personal violence ever less routine — the same trend that, for instance, gradually saw off the formerly ubiquitous practice of dueling.

All this falls into the active space of historians far wiser than any mere headsman. And all, of course, was cold comfort to Hannah Harding and Mary Briant.


George Whalley, a 60-year-old carpenter, knifed his wife Hannah Harding in the head on June 10th. She languished with the wound for nearly a month before succumbing on July 6. It was his second marriage, and while he had seemingly lived amicably with his late first spouse, George had furious rows with Hannah over money. Testimony from his trial:

Eliz. Dur. The Yard that belongs to the Prisoner’s House and our Yard join together, they are parted by a thin Wainscoat Partition, and there is a loose Board that lifts up between the 2 Yards. On the 10th of June I was in our own Yard, and heard the Deceased say, she would not be lock’d into the Kitchen. I listened, and heard the Prisoner curse and swear at her in a violent Manner, then he shut her and himself into the Yard, and told her she had robb’d him of all he had, and that he had not a Farthing to help himself with. She told him she had not, and the Quarrel encreasing, I lifted up the loose Board, and saw him take Hold of her Shoulder, and pull off a Handkerchief which she had upon her Neck; then she cry’d out Murder, and I observed a large Clasp Knife in his Hand upon her Shoulder. This is the Knife, and the Blood is still upon it. I was not above a Yard from him, and saw him plainly cut her across the Shoulder; then he moved his Hand higher, and cut her in the Neck; and then he moved it again, and cut her nearer her Ear. After he had cut her in this Manner, he open’d the Kitchen Door, and push’d her into the Kitchen. Our Sink likewise is parted from theirs by some slight Boards, and when I ran to alarm our Family, I saw her leaning over the Sink, and bleeding into it in a very violent Manner. When the Neighbours came in, he open’d the Door and ran away. I have often heard him abuse and curse her, and never heard her give him any Provocation. This was the 10th of June between 5 and 6 in the Afternoon.

Nathaniel Harris. On the 10th of June, when I came Home to Dinner, (I live in the same House) the Prisoner was cursing and swearing at his Wife, because a Gentleman that had got his Money, would not let him have it again, but had told him he would make him knuckle down to his Taw. The Prisoner told her, the Gentleman wanted him to go into the Country, away from his Wife, but he said he would not go, for they shou’d not live together long, and she would die first. He very frequently cursed and abused her, – the House was never at Peace for him. He has been in the Counter before, for abusing her. I told him I would hang myself if I was he, no, (he said) he wou’d not; so I went from Dinner between 1 and 2, and saw no more of it.

Prisoner. I was overcome by her aggravating me.

Mary Hignal. I liv’d on the same Floor with the Deceased, (Mrs. Harding) she chose that Name, and did not care to be called by the Prisoner’s. The Morning this happen’d, I went into the Kitchen, and heard him call the Deceased a great many Bitches. I reprov’d him, and he call’d me Bitch, and told me, if I did not be gone, he would murder me. Upon this, I went to the Door of my own Room, and heard him continue to abuse her; after some Time, she went up two or three Stairs, toward another Apartment; he got hold of her to pull her down, and she clung to the Bannisters of the Stairs; but he kick’d her under the Arm, tore her down Stairs, and kick’d her again on the Breast. While she stood in the Passage, he went into the Kitchen, and bid her come in; she refused, and said he had got a Knife, and had some ill Design against her. He said he had none, but I heard a Knife clasp. Then he went down Stairs, and was in and out all Day. But about six in the Evening, he came into the Kitchen again, and spit in my Face, and I spit in his Face, and went out. Immediately the Prisoner shut himself in, with his Wife, and I run up to Harris’s Room, and said, I believ’d the Man was going to kill his Wife. Upon this, Mrs. Harris and I, came down, and heard the Deceased cry

Murder

in the Yard but I could neither get to them, nor see them; and being in a very great Fright, I ran down, and went into a Chandler’s Shop, and told the People, the Prisoner had murder’d his Wife. They said, perhaps I might be mistaken; I ran up Stairs again, to see if I could get into the Kitchen, and I met the Prisoner coming down Stairs into the Alley, with one Hand bloody, and the other in his Pocket. When I got into the Kitchen, I found Mrs. Harding (the Deceased) leaning upon her Hand, and bleeding very much. I believe I saw a Gallon of Blood which she had lost.


Dean Briant or Bryant stabbed his wife Mary in the back with a clasp knife, killing her. Testimony from his trial:

Lydia Cole. On the 7th of July in the Night, I was very ill with the Tooth-Ach, and an Ague in my Head, and not being able to sleep, I walked about my Chamber, which is a Ground Room, and joins to the Prisoner’s. About half an Hour after One, I heard somebody knock at his Door once or twice, and cry softly in a Man’s Voice,

Molly! Molly! Molly!

three Times. The Door was immediately open’d, and he was let into the Room that joins with mine. No sooner was he got in, but Words arose; then I heard a Blow given. Then Words, — then a Blow. At last I heard a Woman in a soft Voice cry,

don’t! don’t! don’t hurt me!

And the Man’s Voice answer’d,

then d-mn your Blood you Bitch, don’t follow me.

After this there were many Words pass’d; and the Woman talk’d to him in a very moving Manner. When the Watchman came Two o’Clock, I heard no Noise, so I lay’d myself down on my Bed; but I had not lain long, before I heard the Woman either crying or squeeling. I jump’d from the Bed again, and heard her groan, for a Quarter of an Hour, and every groan, grew fainter and fainter, ’till I could not hear it at all. From this Time, I heard no Noise, but only a dragging of something along the Floor, and then I imagin’d the Man went out of the House again.

Margaret Carter. I know nothing of the Murder; but I can speak to the Prisoner’s Behaviour to his Wife at other Times. The Prisoner, the Deceased, and I, have been acquainted many Years. He always has been very vile in his Behaviour to her: beating and abusing her frequently, though she always behav’d very mildly to him. The worst Words I ever heard her use to him, were,

why do you use me so? ’tis worse usage than I deserve.

I have seen her fall on her Knees and entreat him not to abuse her, and instead of being mov’d with Compassion, he has beat her ’till she has bled. On the first of February last, she sent for me; I found her darning, or running the Heels of his Stockings. As soon as she saw me, she burst out a crying, and said, she was now at a Distance from every Friend, and had no one to ease her Mind to. Her Husband (she said) was gone abroad in a great Passion; and had told her, that he would neither bed with her, nor ever eat or drink with her more, and that if he met her in the Street, he would certainly kill her; nor would he ever be Friends with her, unless she would own, she took a Guinea and a Half out of his Pocket, which she profess’d she had never touch’d. I was concern’d at her Tale, and went down to the Waterside to see for him, but not finding him, I returned again to the Deceased. While I was with her, the Prisoner came in, and to get him into a good Humour, I invited him to come a House-warming to my House, but he refuss’d: The poor Woman burst out a crying again, and told him she had made him some Broth, and beg’d him to eat some; he reply’d,

no, d-mn you for a Bitch, I won’t touch it, nor ever eat any Thing with you, ’till you have acknowledged you took the Money.

She fell on her Knees, and hung about his Knees, declaring with a great many Tears, that she was Innocent; but he up with his Fist, and dash’d her away from him with such Violence, as to set her a bleeding.

* “Interpersonal Violence in English Society 1300-1980,” Past and Present 101 (1983).

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

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1837: Luis Candelas, urban bandit

Add comment November 6th, 2020 Headsman

The brigand Luis Candelas was garroted in Madrid on this date in 1837.

Candelas — that’s a Spanish link, as are most available sources on the man — was a bad boy from a bourgeois family with a penchant for high living and high blood, the latter of which got him kicked out of school when a priest slapped him by way of discipine and Candelas repaid him in kind.

From here he went on to the life of a sybaritic picaro, worthy of remembrance in various song and verse.

He was a dashing Don Juan type, smartly dressed and famed for his love of the written word and the opposite sex; he was a triumphant duelist, that noble old sport; and he was the king of a gang of robbers that haunted the taverns of Madrid and won both treasure and popular affection by their exploits.

“Money is badly distributed,” ran one of their reported aphorisms of social banditry, “and it is not fair that while some are dragged in coaches, while others trudge through the mud.”

In this last he had a Jekyll-and-Hyde double life, posing as the respectable Luis Alvarez de Cobos by day only to transform into lovable underworld rogue by night.

As ought to happen to such a romantic desperado, he was betrayed in the end by his heart. Feeling inordinate police heat due to robbing some inordinately important people — the Queen‘s personal dressmaker, the French ambassador — Candelas attempted to slip out of the country with his lover, a woman named Clara. The latter went with him as far as Gijon before she was overcome with longing for hearth and home and convinced Candelas to return to Madrid and ride out the manhunt there. He was caught.

They tried him for 40 different robberies, and he hung with a jaunty “Adiós Patria mía, sé feliz!” (“Farewell, my country, be happy!”)

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,Outlaws,Public Executions,Spain,Theft

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1904: Wang Weiqin, by lingchi

Add comment October 31st, 2020 Headsman

On this date in 1904, Wang Weiqin, an official who killed two families, was put to death in Beijing by lingchi (slow slicing, or death by a thousand cuts).

This execution is distinguished by its late date and, consequently, the photographs taken of it; needless to say, it is Mature Content below.

Several equally ghastly photographs of this event can be browsed here.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,China,Death Penalty,Execution,Gruesome Methods,History,Lingchi,Mature Content,Murder,Public Executions

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1525: Klaus Kniphoff, pirate

Add comment October 30th, 2020 Headsman

Pirate Claus/Klaus Kniphoff was beheaded at Hamburg on this date in 1525.

He was the stepson of the former mayor of Malmö, a Hanseatic port on the southern reach of what is now Sweden, but which at the time answered to Danish sovereignty.

This was the very city where the 1524 treaty was inked settling the Swedish War of Liberation [from Denmark], and it was during this conflict that Kniphoff had taken from the Danish king Christian II a letter of marque authorizing him to prey on the merchant vessels of the Hanseatic League cities aiding Sweden’s rebellion. His prolific piracy career outlasted the end of the war.

The Hanseatic League, merchant-cities for whom open sea lanes were paramount, were always bound to take a dim view of his privateering and they had good legal grounds since there was never a declared war between Denmark and the Hanse. Danish speakers can enjoy a detailed biography here (pdf).

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Entry Filed under: 16th Century,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Denmark,Execution,Germany,Hanseatic League,History,Piracy,Pirates,Public Executions,Torture,Wartime Executions

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1799: Domenico Cirillo

Add comment October 29th, 2020 Headsman

Neapolitan physician and scientist Domenico Cirillo was hanged on this date in 1799, for joining the abortive Parthenopean Republic.


Statue of Cirillo at his hometown of Grumo Nevano, where a school and library also bear his name. (cc) image by Nicpac.

Cirillo (English Wikipedia entry | Italian) was a gifted botanist and entomologist with a raft of scholarly papers to his name; he introduced smallpox inoculation in Naples.

For a time he was also the personal physician to the royal family, but as a Jacbobin-curious Freemason he also partook of the era’s emerging egalitarianism. An urban myth-sounding anecdote holds that when a faced with competing calls for his attentions he preferred to first visit a poor man rather than a rich man who would pay him, saying “the art of healing must be practiced to relieve human misery and not to procure health.”

Despite all that he was only a tardy participant when Naples made its abortive Republican turn in 1799, only reluctantly acceding to urgings to join the Parthenopean Republic.

Perhaps he anticipated the fury of the counterrevolution — or, as he represented matters later, that his cooperation was no more than apolitical civic engagement. In an appeal that he had the weakness to dispatch to Lady Hamilton, the lover of Lord Nelson who was even then anchored in harbor applying British intervention against the Jacobins,

The conduct of my life, before and after the French Revolution, was always honest, pure and loyal. I was often called to care for the French, who were sick, but I never had any intimacy with them, I had correspondence with them of any kind … For three months, I did nothing but help with my own money and that of some charitable friends the large number of [poor people] existing in the city. I induced all the doctors, surgeons and associations to go around visiting the impoverished, who had no way to cure their ailments. After this period, Abrial came to establish the new government, and insisted that I accept a seat on the Legislative Commission. I refused two or three times: in the end I was threatened and forced. What could I do? However, in the short time of this administration, I never took an oath against the king, I never wrote or spoke a single word offensive against any of the Royal Family, nor appeared in their public ceremonies, nor donned their uniform. I didn’t handle public money, and the only paper ducats they gave me were distributed to the poor …

Your Ladyship now knows the true story, not of my crimes, but of the involuntary errors to which I was driven by the strength of the French army. Now, m’lady, in the name of God, don’t abandon your unfortunate friend. Remember that by saving my life you will have the eternal gratitude of an honest family. Your generosity, that of your husband and the great Nelson are my only hopes. Obtain for me a pardon from our merciful king, and the public will benefit by my medical observations, collected in the space of forty years. Remember that I did all I could to save the Botanical Garden of Caserta, and I did my best to be of the best use to Mrs. Greffer’s [a widow whom Lord Nelson had aided -ed.] children. (Source)

No sale for Lord Nelson, who did indeed have the practical power to make decisive intercession, but refused.

Domenico Cirillo, who had been the King’s physician, might have been saved, but that he chose to play the fool and lie, denying that he had ever made any speeches against the government, and saying that he only took care of the poor in the hospitals.

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Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Doctors,Execution,Hanged,History,Intellectuals,Italy,Martyrs,Naples,Power,Public Executions,Revolutionaries,Treason

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1790: Samuel Hadlock, Mount Desert Island murderer

Add comment October 28th, 2020 Headsman

On this date in 1790, Samuel Hadlock hanged for a drunken murder committed on Mount Desert Island off the coast of Maine.

This fantastic story was thoroughly excavated in 1998 by some enthusiasts at the Mount Desert Island Historical Society; their resulting study, “Hadlock Executed This Day” can be perused in pdf form.

His journey to the gallows begins a year an two days before his hanging when the 43-year-old miller drinking vigorously as was the style at the time “made some drink with water, rum and molasses, and drank once or twice. I felt dizzy in my head, and a good deal disordered in my mind.” (That’s according to his Last Words and Dying Speech, which we’ll quote repeatedly.)

Sufficiently buzzed, Hadlock headed out on a mean-drunk walkabout, beat up a female neighbor, Comfort Manchester, for arguing with him until another fellow intervened. He then transferred his rage to “the unfortunate Eliab Littlefield Gott, and one Daniel Tarr, crossing the river in a canoe.”

Hadlock hailed the two and then went to work on Gott, repeatedly plunging the younger man’s head into the water in a vain attempt to drown him, before assailing him with a club. Only the meddling of that same Samaritan who intervened for Mrs. Manchester, one James Richardson, abated this attack, eventually subduing the maniac with Gott’s help.

In Mr. Manchester’s telling, Hadlock then decoyed his combatants to get free — “Hadlock said he wante dto git up … Richardson let … Hadlock git up but Hadlock having his hand in the hare of … Eliab … [he] took a stake from the fence … then followed Richardson with said stake, who escaped … [then] turned and ran after … Eliab, whose clothe were wet and boots filled with water.”

The erstwhile canoeist groaned away his life that night in the Manchesters’ bed, his skull fractured in several places.


The still-extant 18th century Pownalborough Courthouse, where Samuel Hadlock was tried before a panel including Declaration of Independence signer Robert Treat Paine. (cc) image by Jimmy Emerson.

Condemned to hang, Hadlock — who we can see is nothing if not determined — tunneled out of the jail and laid low under assumed names for a couple of months — albeit unwisely not getting far from his old stomping-grounds, “being sensible in my own mind that I never was in my heart guilty of the murder charged upon me, and God having delivered me from the goal, I still hoped that he would protect and preserve me.”

Hope not being a plan, he was eventually spotted and chased to ground aboard a schooner by a pursuing posse, but had concealed himself so well that they were aboard to abandon the ship as a false lead when one of the pursuers went belowdecks and

heard a gunlock snap and turning round saw Hadlock in the cabin with a gun presented towards the men on deck who were to the number of 10 or 11, and all in a cluster. Had the gun discharged at the time Hadlock pulled the trigger, it is probable he would have killed and wounded as many as five or six, as the gun proved to be loaded with two balls and 18 buckshot.

According to newspaper reports cited in “Hadlock Executed This Day”, the man fell through the noose on the first try at hanging him at Pownalborough (present-day Dresden, Maine).

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

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1578: Nicolas Gosson, counterrevolved

Add comment October 26th, 2020 Headsman


Beheading of barrister Nicolas Gosson at Arras on October 26, 1578.

Presently in France, this town at the time was in the Spanish Low Countries during the unfolding Calvinist Dutch Revolt.

Gosson, “a man of great wealth, one of the most distinguished advocates in the Netherlands, and possessing the gift of popular eloquence to a remarkable degree, was the leader of this burgess faction” according to this public domain history. He mounted an urban coup in favor of the Orangist — one of several similar coups in the southern Low Countries, where ultras tried to force events upon less favorable terrain. “Inflamed by the harangues of Gosson, and supported by five hundred foot soldiers and fifty troopers under one Captain Ambrose, they rose against the city magistracy, whose sentiments were unequivocally for Parma, and thrust them all into prison. They then constituted a new board of fifteen, some Catholics and some Protetants, but all patriots, of whom Gosson was chief.”

The not-so-patriotic faction — the so-called “Malcontents”, noblemen and their supporters who were either repelled by Calvinist excesses or simply pleased to seek their advantage allying with Spain — turned back Gosson’s revolution within days.

Baron Capres, the great Malcontent seignior, who was stationed with his regiment in the neighbourhood … marched into the city at the head of a strong detachment, and straightway proceeded to erect a very tall gibbet in front of the Hotel de Ville. This looked practical in the eyes of the liberated and reinstated magistrates, and Gosson, Crugeot, and the rest were summoned at once before them. The advocate thought, perhaps, with a sigh, that his judges, so recently his prisoners, might have been the fruit for another gallows-tree, had he planted it when the ground was his own …

The process was rapid. A summons from Brussels was expected every hour from the general government, ordering the cases be brought before the federal tribunal, and as the Walloon provinces were not yet ready for open revolt, the order would be an inconvenient one. Hence the necessity for haste … Bertoul, Crugeot, Mordacq, with several others, were condemned in a few hours to the gibbet. They were invited to appeal, if they chose, to the council of Artois, but hearing that the court was sitting next door, so that there was no chance of a rescue in the streets, they declared themselves satisfied with the sentence. Gosson had not been tried, his case being reserved for the morrow.

Meanwhile, the short autumnal day had drawn to a cloe. A wild, stormy, rainy night then set in, but still the royalist party — citizens and soldiers intermingled — all armed to the teeth, and uttering fierce cries, while the whole scene was fitfully illuminated with the glare of flambeaux and blazing tar-barrels, kept watch in the open square around the city hall. A series of terrible Rembrandt-like night-pieces succeeded — grim, fantastic, and gory. [Pierre] Bertoul, an old man, who for years had so surely felt himself predestined to his present doom that he had kept a gibbet in his own house to accustom himself to the sight of the machine, was led forth the first, and hanged at ten in the evening. He was a good man, of perfectly blameless life, a sincere Catholic, but a warm partisan of Orange.

Valentine de Mordacq, an old soldier, came from the Hotel de Ville to the gallows at midnight. As he stood on the ladder, amid the flaming torches, he broke forth into furious execrations, wagging his long white beard to and fro, making hideous grimaces, and cursing the hard fate which, after many dangers on the battle-field and in beleaguered cities, had left him to such a death. The cord strangled his curses. Crugeot was executed at three in the morning, having obtained a few hours’ respite in order to make his preparations, which he accordingly occupied himslf in doing as tranquilly as if he had been setting forth upon an agreeable journey. He looked like a phantom, according to eye-witnesses, as he stood under the gibbet, making a most pious and Catholic address to the crowd.

The whole of the following day was devoted to the trial of Gosson. He was condemned at nightfall, and heard by appeal before the superior court directly afterwards. At midnight of the 25th of October 1578, he was condemned to lose his head, the execution to take place without delay. The city guards and the infantry under Capres still bivouacked upon the square; the howling storm still continued, but the glare of fagots and torches made the place as light as day. The ancient advocate, with haggard eye and features distorted by wrath, walking between the sheriff and a Franciscan monk, advanced through the long lane of halberdiers, in the grand hall of the Town House, and thence emerged upon the scaffold erected before the door. He shook his fists with rage at the released magistrates, so lately his prisoners, exclaiming that to his miplaced mercy it was owing that his head, instead of their own, was to be placed upon the block. He bitterly reproached the citizens for their cowardice in shrinking from dealing a blow for their fatherland, and in behalf of one who had so faithfully srved them. The clerk of the court then read the sentence amid silence so profound that every syllable he uttered, and every sigh and ejaculation of the victim, were distinctly heard in the most remote corner of the square. Gosson then, exclaiming that he was murdered without cause, knelt upon the scaffold. His head fell while an angry imprection was still upon hi lips.

This municipal revolution and counter-revolution, obscure though they seem, were in reality of very grave importance. This was the last blow struck for freedom in the Walloon country. The failure of the movement made that scission of the Netherlands certain, which has endured till our days.

A few months afterward, Malcontents, Catholics, and pro-Spain types sealed their alliance (maybe at breaks in their negotiations clapping shoulders as they reminisced about cutting down old Nicolas Gosson) with a pact called the Union of Arras.

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Entry Filed under: 16th Century,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,France,History,Lawyers,Politicians,Power,Public Executions,Spain,The Worm Turns,Treason,Wartime Executions

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1721: John Trantum, 1/2

Add comment October 23rd, 2020 Headsman

[H]e was “not of any Business”, but had gone to the East-Indies and China as a servant to someone on board a ship, and had stayed there for four months while the ship was loaded with cargo. On his return to England he was paid over &pound/80 but he quickly spent it all and “took to vicious Courses”. He related that his mother “some Times told him, she fear’d he lived Dishonestly, and beg’d him not think of subsisting on the Ruins and Spoils of innocent People, for it would terminate in Misery and Destruction”. She would prove to be right.

-From the London Lives biography of John Trantum. (London Lives is digital database with “a wide range of primary sources about eighteenth-century London, with a particular focus on plebeian Londoners”; it’s kin to the oft-used-by-ExecutedToday bonanza of trial records at The Old Bailey Online, and friend of the site Tim Hitchcock is a co-director of both.) Click through to read the whole thing, and don’t forget to navigate onward to his brother Richard Trantum — part of the same gang of criminals, and destined come 1723 for the same fate as John.

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

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1647: Francesco Toraldo

Add comment October 21st, 2020 Headsman

On this date in 1647, Francesco Toraldo was put to summary death by rebelling Neapolitans.

Toraldo was a decorated commander during the Thirty Years’ War who was all set up to enjoy retirement as the Duke of Palata, a dignity conjured for him by the grateful Spanish.

This title persists in the Spanish peerage to this day, even though the namesake “duchy”, Palata, is a town in Italy — which is where Toraldo had some family holdings.

That meant he was in the neighborhood to get pulled into the action when Naples in 1647 rebelled against the King of Spain, the neglectful overlord of the City of the Sun.

In July 1647 a tax revolt led by a fisherman named Masaniello briefly gained control of the city.*


The Anti-Spanish Revolt of Masaniello in the Piazza del Mercato in Naples on 7 July 1648, by Michelangelo Cerquozzi and Viviano Codazzi, the latter of whom fled Naples because of this very event.

After the city’s merchants murdered Masaniello, Toraldo was called on as governor-general. He enjoyed widespread support among the still-restive populace, and when the Spanish royal house attempted a show of force under John of Austria to decisively quell the disturbance, Toraldo’s defense of the city might have led a more ambitious soul to declare himself the master of Naples. Indeed, many Neapolitans urged this course upon him — but Toraldo hewed to an increasingly untenable middle way of simultaneous fidelity to Spain and the Neapolitan masses that did for him in the end. (In fairness, the bolder attempt would surely have done for him just the same; his safety would have been in retiring.)

Hitherto the people had at least recognised the external sovereignty of Spain. Whilst they fought against the Spaniards, they professed their allegiance to the king of Spain; they rejected the accusation of rebellion, decidedly as well as vehemently; they had respected the pictures and arms of Philip IV and his ancestors, and always called themselves his most faithful people. But by degrees this had changed, and the unsuccessful expedition of Don John had given the last blow to this feeling of attachment to the royal family …A manifesto of the people on the 17th of October, 1647, set forth the grievance of the nation against their rulers, and invoked the aid of the Pope and the Emperor of kings and of princes. Political parties were formed; the most active at first were those who cried “Long life to the Pope! were he but our liege lord.” The Cardinal-Archbishop leaned to this side; the Nuncio Altieri was familiar with intrigues, and his brother was mixed up in it … Others, and amongst them some of the nobility, inclined towards France, and intriguers were not wanting who laboured in behalf of this power … Others again, considered a republic as feasible; but the great mass of the middle class began to perceive the danger into which they had fallen by the last steps taken in the revolution. They had been desirous of the abolition of burdens which were too oppressive, but not of a change in the government and dynasty. They had allowed the populace to have its own way about the gabelles. But when the populace prevailed, they changed their minds, as one insurrection followed upon another, when all commerce was at a stand-still, when all security was at an end, when the town was threatened with being turned into a heap of ruins, and that they were on the point of losing every thing, because they wanted too much. It was this middle class which later gave Spain an easy and bloodless victory.

But till this happened, Naples continued the theatre of horrible scenes. As the negotiations with Don John of Austria led to no results, the people tried to drive away the troops from the posts which they still occupied within the town. Thus Michele de Santis, the butcher who had murdered Don Giuseppe Carafa, led six hundred men against the Spanish post at Porta Meina. The Viceroy, after whom it was called, as has already been mentioned, had built this gate in the wall of Charles Vth, upon the heights of Montesanto, on the slope of the mountain upon which is situated the Carthusian convent and Sant’Elmo. Here stood fifteen Spaniards, armed only with pike and swords; they drove back six hundred men. The leaders perceived that, without the advantage of a commanding position, all individual detached successes were of no avail. Santa Chiara had resisted all their attacks. On the 21st of October a mine was sprung under the tower. Don Francesco Toraldo, who had been too weak to extricate himself, as he might possibly have succeeded in doing from his false position, and who now acted as a sort of check upon the people, commanded the attack in person. The mine was sprung, but being improperly laid, it only injured the neighbouring buildings, which buried numbers of the champions of the people under the ruins. The garrison of the convent made a sally at the same time, and the bands of the assailants withdrew, with the cry of treason. Their unfortunate leader was to atone for the treason; they seized him and dragged him to the market-place. In vain did Don Francesco Toraldo attempt to speak, in vain did his adherents try to silence the mad men. He sank down at the fish-market; they cut off his noble head upon a stone fish-stall. They stuck it upon a speak; thus had first [Don Giuseppe] Carafa’s head been carried in triumph, then that of Masaniello. They tore the still warm heart from the mangled corpse, and carried it in a silver dish to the convent, where Donna Alvina Frezza, the very beautiful wife of the unfortunate man, was staying. The savage murderers desired that the princess would show herself at the gate of the convent to receive the heart of her husband. The nuns, horror-struck, refused to deliver the message: then these savages collected the wood and faggots that were about to set fire to the convent. Toraldo’s widow, informed of the danger appeared at the threshold, and was obliged to receive from the hands of the barbarians this dreadful though beloved present. Many even of the mob wept at this sight. The corpse remained hanging on the gallows for two days, then they took it down, and in one of those sudden revulsions of mind that so often take place amongst the rude masses, they buried their murdered Captain-General with great pomp. (Source)

This fresh detonation of the powder keg led to the populace declaring itself the Neapolitan Republic; as the passage above hints, that project did not long survive the Spaniards’ pressure.

* Masaniello’s populist revolt left a wide literary footprint. Of special note is the opera La Muette de Portici, whose performance in Brussels in 1830 helped catalyze the Belgian Revolution.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 17th Century,Arts and Literature,Beheaded,Borderline "Executions",Execution,Gibbeted,History,Italy,Lynching,Naples,No Formal Charge,Nobility,Occupation and Colonialism,Public Executions,Soldiers,Spain,Summary Executions,Wartime Executions

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