Posts filed under 'The Worm Turns'

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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1764: John Ives, spectator turned spectacle

Add comment June 6th, 2020 Headsman

“I was here at the last execution, as free as any one of you, and little thought of this my unhappy fate. God grant you all more grace than I have had.”

-Last words of burglar John Ives, hanged with six other felons at Tyburn on June 6, 1764.

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1328: Pierre de Remi, royal treasurer

Add comment April 25th, 2020 Headsman

French royal treasurer Pierre de Remi was hanged on the Montfaucon gibbet on this date in 1328.*

A commoner made good, Pierre de Remi ascended, descended, and finally depended with the chance fortunes of his courtly protectors.

He couldn’t say that he ought not have seen it coming. As the trusted aide of Louis of Navarre, our Pierre took the helm of the royal treasury after that man ascended the throne as Louis X, upon which occasion the new king executed dad’s faithful treasurer on spurious charges to appease his factional rivals.

Death came at this crowd fast, for Pierre de Remi had only a few months in his post before Louis X also shuffled off the mortal coil — and the treasurer was promptly sacked (but at least not killed) by his successor. No problem: Pierre de Remi just cozied up to the new king’s younger brother and waited for a bout of dysentery to turn over the succession card once again.*

When this young man attained the crown as Charles IV at the age of 27 and immediately reinstated Pierre de Remi as Treasurer of France, the latter must have clapped himself on the back for playing the long game expertly. Now to reap the rewards: a lucrative seigneury, sinecures for his kids, lands and luxuries of every description. Under the aegis of his royal patron, he’d set up his family for a good long — wait, it says here that King Charles died suddenly in February 1328.

With the surprise executive turnover, all of Pierre’s easily peculation became the indictment to hang him — to offer him to the ire of a populace whose currency he had painfully devalued. Per the Chronique latine de Guillaume de Nangis, he

had been accused by many people of having in many circumstances made unfaithful use of the king’s property and of several pieces of furniture and buildings; so that many and important people maintained that his prodigious spoliations had raised the value of his goods to more than twelve hundred thousand pounds. As he possessed an immense treasure, he was summoned to account for his management; and having been unable to find any satisfactory answer, he was condemned to be hanged. Being near the gibbet, in Paris, he confessed that he had betrayed the king and the kingdom in Gascogne; that is why, because of this confession, he was tied to the tail of the horse which had brought him to the gallows; and immediately dragged the small gibbet to a large gibbet which he had recently had himself made, and of which he is said to have given the workers the plan with great care, he was the first to be hanged there. It is by just judgment that the laborer collects the fruit of his work. He was hanged on April 25, the feast of Saint Mark the Evangelist, in the year 1328.

* While the boys in this family kept dying young, their “she-wolf” of a sister, Isabella, cast a long shadow over England.

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Entry Filed under: 14th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,France,Hanged,History,Pelf,Politicians,Power,Public Executions,The Worm Turns,Theft

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1217: Eustace the Monk, turncoat outlaw

Add comment August 24th, 2019 Headsman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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1393: Karsten Sarnow, Stralsund mayor

Add comment June 28th, 2019 Headsman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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1632: Topal Recep Pasha, Grand Vizier

Add comment May 18th, 2019 Headsman

Ottoman Grand Vizier Topal Recep Pasha was put to death by Sultan Murad IV on this date in 1632.

Come to the throne as a mere boy of 11, Murad’s early reign was long constrained by the rivalries and factions of the court — not to mention a huge war with Persia.

A sovereign endures such a contingent existence at his own peril, as could be attested by no small number of deposed sultans including Murad’s own teenage predecessor, who was murdered by his Janissaries.

A 1631-1632 revolt by this same corps might have done for Murad, too; indeed, it so menaced him that he was forced to give over Grand Vizier Hafiz Ahmed Pasha to their fury early in 1632. Instead, it catalyzed Murad’s capture of absolutist power — as experienced to his distress by the subsequent Grand Vizier, who was also Murad’s brother-in-law.

For some two months the janissaries and the sipahis of the Porte gave free rein to their licence and indiscipline at Istanbul. Murad IV waited until the time was opportune and then struck hard, removing from the scene Rejeb Pasha, whom he considered to be one of the most active personalities behind the recent troubles. The execution of Rejeb Pasha was carried out on 18 May 1632 — a date which saw the sultan liberated once and for all from the tutelage of the great officials and which marked the real beginning of his reign. He had grown to manhood in a world of danger and duress. His character was tempered to the hardness of steel in the harsh and bitter experiences of his youth. A ferocious and inexorable resolve to be the master in his own house would henceforth dominate his actions. It is not surprising that in the eight years of life remaining to him he was to become perhaps the most feared and terrible of all the Ottoman sultans. (Source)

The reputations for brutality and efficacy earned by Murad for the balance of his reign until cirrhosis of the liver claimed his life in 1640 were inextricably linked to one another, a fact amply underscored by the fate of the libertine brother who succeeded him and was, yes, overthrown and murdered by the Janissaries.

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706: Leontios and Apsimar

Add comment February 15th, 2019 Headsman

Likely around February 706 the Byzantine emperors Leontios (Leontius) and Apsimar were executed by the man they’d deposed.

Although a very lesser member of the Roman Empire’s purple club, they had the honor of sort of sounding the death knell of the century-old dynasty founded by the mighty Heraclius.

Heraclius’s great-great-grandson Justinian II had shown himself over a ten-year reign beginning 685 a high- and a ham-handed prince; indeed, his eventual usurper had felt that wrath in 692 when Justinian threw Leontios in prison for losing a battle to the Arabs.

Later restored as strategos of Hellas, Leontios predictably rebelled almost immediately and deposed the irritating legacy case in 695. While many of Justinian’s ministers were put to death, the new boss made an unwise show of clemency by only mutilating Justinian.

(Justinian’s nose was cut off, a mercy masquerading as a grotesquerie: it was commonly meted out in lieu of execution to potential rival imperial claimants with the understanding that the visible mutilation would make it effectively impossible for that person to effectually claim power in the future. Leontios was destined to experience this “mercy” firsthand.)

Our first usurper marks the start of a tumultuous era known as the Twenty Years’ Anarchy wherein seven different emperors ruled in the course of a single generation — so of course he did not have the perquisites of power very long. (The History of Byzantium podcast covers this period in episodes 65 and 66.)

In 698, after the Arabs conquered Carthage — permanently ending the Roman presence in Africa, which dated to the Roman Republic — an admiral named Apsimar claimed the throne for himself. Perhaps it was a pre-emptive lest he be blamed for the Carthage debacle: like Leontios, he first set his foot upon the dais thanks to a failure in the field. For whatever reason it worked with an ease that speaks to the scant legitimacy that Leontios had established among his subjects. Apsimar — Tiberius III, if you please — went as easy on Leontios as had Leontios on his own predecessor, condemning him only to nasal mutilation and monastic imprisonment.

Apsimar had a bit more success and a bit more longevity, but only a bit — for in the early 700s, the embittered and vengeful Justinian cinematically managed to escape his overseers, strangle two assassins sent to hunt him down, and sail through a deadly storm* on the Black Sea to catch on with the Bulgars.

There, mutilated face and all, he raised an army to take back Constantinople. This he duly achieved by dint of an ill-guarded water channel to re-enthrone the dynasty of Heraclius, then hauled both of the interregnum rulers before him and smugly propped up his feet upon their backs. Justinian got a golden prosthetic nose and imperial power; the now-ex-kings got publicly beheaded in an amphitheater known as the Kynegion.

Justinian’s improbable political second act lasted just six years more, until he was overthrown in 711 for the second and final time. This usurper had the good sense to kill him.

* In fear of his life during the storm, one of Justinian’s companions allegedly called on him to placate God by promising his enemies mercy. “If I spare a single one of them, may God drown me here,” replied the once and future emperor.

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Entry Filed under: Ancient,Beheaded,Byzantine Empire,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Heads of State,History,Power,Public Executions,Soldiers,The Worm Turns,Treason,Turkey,Uncertain Dates

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1981: Not Kim Dae-jung, South Korean president and Nobel laureate

Add comment January 24th, 2018 Headsman

South Korea’s dictator reluctantly commuted the death sentence of democracy activist Kim Dae-jung on January 24, 1981 … a gesture that would eventually enabled Kim to return the same favor to the dictator.

A farmer’s son who became a wealthy businessman and a charismatic orator, the Catholic Kim had been a fixture of the political opposition since the 1960s which was a dangerous profession. In his address accepting the Nobel Peace Prize for 2000, Kim reflected that

five times I faced near death at the hands of dictators. Six years I spent in prison, and 40 years I lived under house arrest or in exile and under constant surveillance. I could not have endured the hardship without the support of my people and the encouragement of fellow democrats around the world. The strength also came from deep personal beliefs.

I have lived, and continue to live, in the belief that God is always with me. I know this from experience. In August of 1973, while exiled in Japan, I was kidnapped from my hotel room in Tokyo by intelligence agents of the then military government of South Korea. The news of the incident startled the world. The agents took me to their boat at anchor along the seashore. They tied me up, blinded me and stuffed my mouth. Just when they were about to throw me overboard, Jesus Christ appeared before me with such clarity. I clung to him and begged him to save me. At that very moment, an airplane came down from the sky to rescue me from the moment of death.

His life on that occasion was saved by the aggressive intervention of U.S. ambassador Philip Habib.

South Korean politics went on tilt after the ruler who nearly had Kim “disappeared” in 1973 was himself bizarrely assassinated by the country’s intelligence chief in late 1979. Emboldened democracy movements raced into the ensuing power vacuum, roiling cities and universities and culminating in May 1980 when a popular uprising in Kim’s native Jeolla was crushed with hundreds of deaths, bringing martial law in its wake. This was the Kwangju or Gwangju Rising (and/or -Massacre), and it led to Kim’s condemnation for sedition.


Kim Dae-jung in the front row of prisoners on trial after Kwangju.

The U.S. Carter administration, and (from November of 1980) the transition team for the incoming Reagan administration, worked strenuously behind the scenes to effect a commutation;* hanging Kim, Reagan foreign policy advisor Richard Allen warned a Korean intelligence delegation, “would be like a bolt of lightning out of the heavens that will strike you.”

The dictator Chun Doo-hwan eventually traded Kim’s life — he’d be sent into exile in the United States under the pretext of going abroad for medical treatment — for an official visit in the first weeks of the incoming president. Reasoning that

Kim’s execution would inflict long-term damage on Chun’s rule, which by this time had stabilized … On January 24, 1981, Chun commuted Kim’s death sentence to life imprisonment and lifted martial law. On February 3, Reagan warmly welcomed Chun to the White House for a summit meeting. He was the second foreign head of state Reagan met after his inauguration. This meeting was important in enhancing the legitimacy of Chun’s leadership both at home and abroad.

-Chae-Jin Lee, A Troubled Peace

Kim returned to South Korea in 1985 as a closely-monitored opposition figure and re-entered politics, repeatedly seeking election to the presidency — which he finally won in 1997, earning not only executive power but the rare opportunity to repay Chun Doo-hwan’s bygone act of grace.

Earlier in 1997, Chun had been convicted by the post-dictatorship courts on a number of capital charges relating to his reign in the 1980s, and himself sentenced to die. President-elect Kim coordinated with his predecessor Kim Young-sam to have Chun’s sentence commuted during the transition.

“In all ages, in all places, he who lives a righteous life dedicated to his people and humanity may not be victorious, may meet a gruesome end in his lifetime, but will be triumphant and honored in history; he who wins by injustice may dominate the present day, but history will always judge him to be a shameful loser. There can be no exception.”

-Kim

* For period context, recall that in April of 1979 the Pakistani military government had hanged the former prime minister, over Washington’s objections.

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820: Not Michael the Amorian, conquer or die

Add comment December 25th, 2017 Headsman

On this date in 820, holiday sentiment cost the Roman emperor his life.

In the unsettled aftermath of Byzantium’s devastating 811 defeat at the Battle of Pliska, the military took the lead in the person of the formerly disgraced general Leo the Armenian.

Leo forced the abdication of a short-reigning predecessor and in this enterprise he was aided by a brother-officer named Michael, known as Michael the Amorian or more colorfully, Michael the Stammerer.*

Both these men had had careers of opportunistically shifting alliances and their friendship did not withstand the intrigues of the palace. (Perhaps the falling-out was aided by ill feeling when Leo put aside his wife, who was Michael’s wife’s sister.)

In 820, Leo got suspicious of Michael and had him condemned to death for plotting against him. But since this grim judgment came down just ahead of Christmas, the emperor graciously gave his comrade-turned-prey a holiday respite. This leniency was one of the very last acts of his life.

When your head ends up on the currency instead of a spike.

It has been famously said that the prospect of imminent execution concentrates the mind wonderfully and that was never truer than for Michael the Amorian. Leo had been right to suspect him of treason — and Michael was able to get word to his co-conspirators to act immediately, lest he betray the lot of them to his inquisitors.

On Christmas morning, Michael’s cronies did just that, ambushing the emperor as he prayed in the chapel of St. Stephen where they cut him down dead — then raced to the palace dungeons to liberate Michael and hail him emperor so hurriedly that he was still partially manacled.

Michael would rule capably for nine years and pass the throne to his descendants, initiating the Amorian or Phrygian dynasty.

The events surrounding this dramatic regime change are covered on the History of Byzantium podcast in episodes 98 and 99 (all about Leo’s reign, culminating with Michael’s coup), and episodes 101 and 102 (all about Michael’s reign).

* Leo also restored the controversial policy of iconoclasm, a policy that Michael continued in his own turn to the profit of this here site.

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1974: Beqir Balluku, Albanian Minister of Defence

Add comment November 5th, 2017 Headsman

On this date in 1974, the deposed Albanian Defence Minister Beqir Balluku was shot … a bit of an occupational hazard for the post considering a like fate for a predecessor 25 years before.

Balluku (English Wikipedia entry | Albanian | German) fought as an anti-Nazi partisan during World War II and ascended to the brass of the postwar communist state by the late 1940s. Thus positioned, he aided the dictator Enver Hoxha in a notable 1956 purge that earned him a derisive namecheck from Nikita Khrushchev.

The Albanians are worse than beasts — they are monsters. Only later did we learn how the Albanian Communist leaders punished and eliminated members of their own Party. They had a sort of troika: Hoxha, Shehu and Balluku. These three used to bring someone to trial, and Enver Hoxha and Mehmet Shehu would sentence the accused to death themselves, without ever putting anything in writing; then they would look for an opportunity to have their victim murdered secretly, and Balluku would personally carry out the execution. It was all very similar to the system used by Joseph Stalin and Lavrentiy Beria.

The unrepentant Stalinism of this “troika” would lead Albania to its strange Cold War alliance with China against Moscow and the power of Hoxha et al would long outlast that of Khrushchev.

But such things never last forever, after all. By the 1970s, friction between the party and the military (and between Albania and China, a relationship that closely implicated Balluku) led Hoxha increasingly to fear a coup d’etat. Hoxha struck first in 1974 by suddenly felling the entire top ranks of the armed forces: not only Balluku but also generals Hito Cako and Petrit Dume.* Balluku had been 22 years the trusted Minister of Defence and 26 years a member of the Politburo, a dependable ally of the chief the entire time but it needed mere weeks to “eat him alive”. (Albanian link)

* These generals would be executed one month after Balluku.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Albania,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Politicians,Power,Shot,The Worm Turns,Treason,Wrongful Executions

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