Posts filed under 'Torture'

1950: The Martyred, at the outset of the Korean War

Add comment June 25th, 2020 Headsman

On this date in 1950, the opening salvos of the Korean War were fired … and behind North Korea’s lines, in Richard E. Kim‘s novel The Martyred, 12 imprisoned Christian pastors were on that same day executed.

This psychologically complex novel takes place months later, when United States/United Nations forces backing South Korea have surged northward, capturing Pyongyang. Here the narrator, a South Korean intelligence officer named Captain Lee, is detailed to investigate how it came to pass that these 12 were killed … and that two others with them were spared.

One of those two has gone mad from the experience. The other is suspected of abandoning God to save his life.

We discover otherwise: that in fact, Rev. Shin was spared by his jailers because they admired his firmness whereas the executed men were the ones who turned coward. Even so, Rev. Shin refuses to publicize his innocence, preferring to embrace the unjust suspicion of his faithlessness in order to elevate the so-called martyrs — in turn giving heart and faith to his congregants.

We followed the chaplain up the aisle, flanked by the congregation that still sang, standing. Only a few of the chandeliers were lighted. A cold draft chilled my bare head, though I felt the warmth of human bodies surrounding me. Halfway up the aisle, I looked up toward the altar, behind which stood the elders, Park and a few others, and Mr. Shin. Soon Colonel Chang and I were with them, facing the congregation. Mr. Shin stepped forward. The candles on the lectern flickered. The congregation sat, hushed.

“Dear brethren,” he began quietly. “You all know who I am, and I know you. I know you, yes, I know you so well that I do not hesitate to say that I belong to you and you belong to me. I am you, you are me, and we are one. And I stand here in the shadow of my inglorious past, and say to you, welcome to the house of our Lord. This house of our Lord is filled tonight, and I am out there with you and you are up here with me. We are here together as one to worship our God and praise Him. Amen.”

Scattered voices in the congregation said, “Amen.”

“I know you well, so well that I know you did not come tonight to this house of our Lord to worship Him. You came to hear me. And I shall speak to you and you shall hear me. I am you and you are me. But who am I?” He paused. “I am a sinner.”

He paused again for a long moment; then, suddenly, his powerful voice boomed. “You came to hear me, a sinner, and you shall hear me, a sinner! Open your eyes! Bare your hearts! And hear! It was I who betrayed our martyrs!” He stopped, his hands clutching the lectern, his body bent slightly forward. He had stressed “I” so strongly that the high-ceilinged interior of the church rang with a vibrating “I” in a tremulous echoing that pervaded the dim, cold air — “… I … I … ” Not a soul stirred.

He said quietly, “On the eighteenth day of June, as you all know, the Communists imprisoned fourteen ministers, and I was one of them. On the twenty-fifth day, twelve ministers were murdered. For seven days and nights, they tortured our martyrs. My dear brethren, I say to you that they tormented the flesh of your martyrs for seven days and nights. I say, ‘flesh of your martyrs,’ for they could not harm their spirits. But how did they torture your martyrs?”

To my surprise — and uneasiness — Mr. Shin, for the next twenty minutes or so, described to the congregation in the minutest detail how each ministers was tortured, one after another, all twelve of them. Mr. Hann, said Mr. Shin, collapsed after three ays and nights of torture and becme ill. At first it seemed that the silent congregation was spellbound by the blood-smeared description, but gradually it began to bestir itself, the rustling of clothes, coughing, and concentrated heavy breathing disturbed the cold air.

Suddenly a woman shrieked. Cries went up. The entire congregation stirred with agitation. Some of the elders rose to their feet. Chaplain Koh hurried over to Mr. Shin, who stood unmoved, rigidly facing the crowd.

A voice from the back shouted, “Away with you!” and another voice, “We don’t want to hear from you!”

Then a woman hissed, “You — a sinner! How dare you defile our martyrs!”

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Arts and Literature,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Fictional,God,History,Korea,Martyrs,Mass Executions,North Korea,Religious Figures,Torture,Wartime Executions

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1996: Huugjilt, wrongful execution

Add comment June 10th, 2020 Headsman

On this date in 1996, a Chinese Mongol with the singular name of Huugjilt was executed by gunshot for rape and murder at Hohhot. With benefit of hindsight, it’s come to be viewed as “one of the most notorious cases of judicial injustice in China.”

Huugjilt discovered the body of a woman named Yang in a public toilet at a factory, on April 9, 1996 — just 62 days before the execution. She’d been raped and strangled, and that official tunnel vision common to wrongful conviction scenarios immediately zeroed in on Huugjilt himself. With conviction quotas to fulfill, authorities abused Huugjilt into a confession and an overhasty conclusion.

“It has not been rare for higher authorities to exert pressure on local public security departments and judiciary to crack serious murder cases,” China Daily editorialized. “Nor has it been rare for the police to extort confessions through torture. And suspects have been sentenced without solid evidence except for extorted confessions.”

This conviction unraveled in 2005 when a serial sex predator named Zhao Zhihong admitted the murder. (He was charged with many similar crimes besides.) The belated investigations ensuing from the resulting uproar cleared Huugjilt, even to the extent of holding a formal posthumous retrial that overturned the original verdict.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,China,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Innocent Bystanders,Murder,Posthumous Exonerations,Rape,Ripped from the Headlines,Scandal,Shot,Torture,Wrongful Executions

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1571: Sigismondo Arquer, Sardinian scholar

Add comment June 4th, 2020 Headsman

Sardinian scholar Sigismondo Arquer was burned at the stake in Toledo, Spain, on this date in 1571.

Born in the capital of Spanish-governed Sardinia, this gentleman had a hereditary imperial knighthood but also an interest in humanism and religious heterodoxy well-calculated to annoy in Counter-Reformation Spain.


Arquer’s map of his native city of Cagliari, for the Cosmographia universalis, for which compendium he also composed an entry on “dark Sardinia” that “in its blend of ancient sources, personal observations and original narrative structure … played a critical role, even when not explicitly acknowledged, in the development of the image of Sardinia in European culture.” (Source) Today, one of the streets in this very historical core the man once sketched is called Via Sigismondo Arquer.

Exploiting Arquer’s associations with Swiss Protestants as well as his talent for making powerful enemies — skewering clergy in the Cosmographia, nettlesome lawsuits against Spanish oligarchs — the Inquisition bagged him for heresy in 1563. He was 33.

In between bouts of interrogation, Arquer used his long confinement to knock out a Passion in Catalan, heavy with personal resonance. The Christ parallels ran all the way to the Plaza de Zocodover, where a soldier — motivated by anger at the heretic or pity for the sufferer, only God can say — speared him through the side during his death throes.

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Entry Filed under: 16th Century,Artists,Burned,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Heresy,History,Intellectuals,Italy,Public Executions,Spain,Torture

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1629: Thomas Schreiber, “thistles, thorns, and strife”

Add comment May 30th, 2020 Headsman

The heartrending and entirely timeless story of a man destroyed for during the three-year witch hunt paroxysm in Mergentheim for having more wisdom and decency than the duly constituted authorities is excerpted from Witch Hunting in Southwestern Germany, 1562-1684: The Social and Intellectual Foundations.


Book CoverThomas Schreiber had a strong sense of justice. When the trials in Mergentheim had run only two months, he had already lost faith in the judicial procedure. On December 1, 1628, when Martha, wife of Bürgermeister Hans Georg Braun, was executed, Schreiber was heard by many persons exclaiming that she had been done a gross injustice. Schreiber even let slip that “King Nero” had also conducted such bloodbaths. Six weeks later Schreiber was again appalled when the extremely wealthy widow of Lorenz Gurren was convicted of witchcraft, and executed on January 12, 1629. When attending the execution of the lady, he had the temerity to express amazement over her confession. The Amtmann Max Waltzen turned to him and said pointedly, “Ha, ha, those who know the devil should not be so amazed.” That kind of talk perturbed Schreiber, and when magistrates began avoiding him, he prepared to flee. During this time he repeatedly denounced the court for its unjust trials and declared that “if anything happens to me, let every pious Christian fear for himself.” He also prayed that “God might preserve everyone from Neuenhaus [the jail and torture chamber], for even the most pious if put in there would be found to be a witch.” The trials, he insisted, were bloodbaths, and the magistrates were out to “wash their hands in my blood.”

Other records show some of the reasons for the behavior of the magistrates toward Schreiber. On December 12, 1628, Martha Dökherin claimed to have seen Schreiber at a witches’ dance. On January 29, 1629, a second woman denounced him. Schreiber’s terror grew as he sensed that things were closing in on him. Schreiber’s terror grew as he sensed that things were closing in on him. He arranged to have money sent out of town to a place where he could later pick it up. On February 1, 1629, he left town, and fled to Ansbach, and later to Hohenlohe. He left in such a hurry that he later had to write his wife to send him his cloak, shoes, black hat, and a pair of green trousers. He wrote also to his friend, the Latin teacher George Allemahn, asking him to examine the case secretly to see whether it was safe to return. In a letter to Bürgermeister Paul Nachtraben [whose own wife had also been executed as a witch -ed.], Schreiber again explained why he had left and protested his innocence. He noted that he feared trial because torture led people to confess lies. In yet another letter to his wife he comforted her with the thought, “Oh what pains these unjust judges will have to suffer in hell!” Finally in a tiny note no larger than three inches by four, he told his wife to meet him at Ebersheim in Hohenlohe.

Unfortunately this note and perhaps the other letters were intercepted by the magistrates in Mergentheim. On February 9, 1629, they wrote to Hohenlohe that Schreiber was staying in Ebersheim, and to kindly detain him until extradition papers could be prepared. By February 10, Schreiber was back in Mergentheim answering questions. He admitted at once that the trials seemed like bloodbaths to him but he could not be sure that anyone had been done an injustice. When asked if he had not defended the witches “and held that witchcraft was mere fantasy,” Schreiber replied that “he had always said [that witch trials were legitimate] only if no one is done an injustice.” At this point the authorities in Mergentheim were apparently confused. There were only two denunciations of Schreiber as a witch, not enough for torture, and Schreiber was too important a man to be dealt with lightly. The first deficiency was remedied on February 13, when Catharina, Georg Reissen’s wife, denounced Schreiber. We may suspect that Schreiber’s name had been suggested to her, as indeed it may have been to the preceding two women.

Schreiber’s friends were another matter. On April 10, the authorities in Mergentheim received a supplication from friends and relatives in Heidenheim, Langenau, Ellwangen, Dinkelsbühl, and Aalen. They protested the lengthy incarceration of Schreiber without specific charges, admitted that he might have sinned against the magistracy set up by God, but pleaded that his youth and his four little children be mitigating factors.

Instead of considering Schreiber’s children, the court wrote to Würzburg for advice. On May 6, 1629, the authorities at Würzburg replied that (1) because three persons had denounced him, (2) because he had fled, (3) because he had attacked the judicial system, Thomas Schreiber might be tortured. The court in Mergentheim proceeded to this step on May 19. Once again Schreiber called the ever mounting trials a bloodbath, [the author here footnotes that 33 more persons had been executed since Schreiber’s capture] but claimed to be glad that God was letting him suffer. Dr. Baumann interrupted to insist “as surely as God is in heaven, this is justice.” Schreiber countered by swearing “as truly as Christ died on the cross, and God created me, I am innocent.” He also asked, “Cannot the learned make mistakes in this matter too?” That ws the last straw; he was given over to torture. After hanging for the length of a Pater noster, he admitted that he had committed adultery three years ago with a woman who turned out to be the devil. In addition he had denied God and said that “men die like cattle.” The rest of his confession proceeded readily as he admitted attending witches’ dances and named those whom he had seen there. He claimed that he had never harmed anyone by magic, since his only reason for giving himself to the devil was Pullschafft (sexual intercourse). He confessed that he had stolen the host from the Eucharist, and proved to be incapable of repeating his rosary. For a man with so many relatives in Protestant Heidenheim, this incapacity must have seemed particularly significant. He confirmed this confession on May 22, naming seven complices, and ratified these confessions and denunciations again on May 25, 26 and 28. Clearly the authorities wanted to establish beyond all doubt the voluntary nature of his confession.

In letters to his wife during this time, Schreiber continued to protest his innocence and with great emotion took leave of his family. Fortunately he could look forward to meeting them again in heaven, but even this did not create resignation. He urged his wife to marry again and noted that she had always repeated an axiom that now had especially bitter relevance: “Whoever is chosen for eternal life must undergo thistles, thorns, and strife.” In the only note we have from Anna Schreiber, written in a very crude hand, she begs pardon for ever giving him the idea that she thought him guilty of witchcraft, and wishes she were dead. The letters are certainly as touching and revealing as the famous one of Mayor Junius in Bamberg, or that of [Magdalena] Weixler in Ellwangen.

The case of Thomas Schreiber is better documented than most, but it reveals the shock and fear that pervaded a town in the grip of panic. Friendships broke down as men lost confidence in one another; families were rent with grief and self-accusation. This case reveals most clearly the danger of attacking the judicial system in the midst of spasms of witch hunting. Doubts, if any, were for the judges, not the populace. Theoretical statements, especially in Latin, were also tolerable. But specific attacks on men and policies were contempt of court and brought swift retribution. On May 30, 1629, Thomas Schreiber was beheaded and burned. Yet how can one measure his contribution to the crisis of confidence in Mergentheim?

The fires continued to burn after the protest of this innkeeper “zum Hirsch.” But the growing awareness that he had been right after all brought witch hunting to a close in Mergentheim before the Swedes arrived to enforce such a policy. The panic had lasted two and a half years, had cost 126 lives, and had disrupted the lives of hundreds more. If this was social catharsis, it nearly killed the patient.

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Entry Filed under: 17th Century,Beheaded,Burned,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Germany,History,Public Executions,Torture,Wartime Executions,Witchcraft

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1682: Four at a Lisbon auto de fe

Add comment May 10th, 2020 Michael Geddes

(Thanks to Scottish Church of England clergyman Michael Geddes for the guest post. Geddes had occasion to witness the May 10, 1682 auto de fe in Lisbon on account of serving as the chaplain to the factory there, and left this account of it in volume I of his 1709 page-turner, Miscellaneous Tracts. Geddes’s detailed account of the Inquisition’s operation in chapter V forms the bulk of our text here, and it’s no surprise from what he writes that the Inquisition’s protests forced him out of Portugal a few years afterward. In Chapter VI, he provides brief vignettes enumerating the offenses of the dozens of subjects of our May 10 auto, from which we have highlighted only the executions — all four of them “New Christians” condemned for continuing to practice Judaism. -ed.)

A View of the Court of Inquisition in Portugal:

With a List of the Prisoners that came forth in an Act of the Faith celebrated at Lisbon, in the Year 1682.

The Court of Inquisition, which in Portugal is commonly called, The Holy Office, and The Holy House, consists of an Inquisitor General, the Supreme Council, Inquisitors, Assessors, Qualificators, a Secretary, an Advocate Fiscal, a Treasurer, Familiars, and Goalers.

The Inquisitor General, who is commonly called the Inquisidor Mor, is named by the King, but confirmed and authorized by the Pope, to act as his Delegate. He lives constantly at Lisbon, in an House in the Inquisition, which belongs to his Office. It is a Place of so great Dignity and Profit, that the Cardinal Infante Don Henry, and Albert Cardinal, Archduke of Austria, were in it, and Don Verissimo Alencastro left the Primacy of Braga for it.

The Counsellors of the Supreme Court are al named by the Inquisitor Major, but must before they act have the King’s approbation. The Council sits constantly twice at Lisbon.

The Inquisitors, who are commonly Secular Priests, do belong either to the Supreme Court which is fixed at Lisbon, or to the Inquisitions of Conimbra, Ebora, or Goa in the East Indies, which Courts have all the same inferiour Officers, and Stiles, and have all their Acts of the Faith.

The Assessors are Divines, Civilians, and Canonists, which are consulted by the Inquisitors in all difficult Cases.

The Qualificators are employed in correcting and amending of Books, and are commonly Dominican Fryars.

It [is] to be hoped, the Heresy of Doctrines is better understood by these Qualificators, than the Etymology of the word Heretick was by the Writer of their Repertorium, printed at Venice in the Year 1588, who to shew his Critical Learnings, faith, the word Hereticus, according to some, is compounded of Erro, and Recto; because an Heretick errs from what is right. According to others it is derived from Eristor, which signifies to divide; and according to some it comes from Adhereo, because it is one’s adhering obstinately to an Error, that makes him an Heretick. And with the same stocks of Learning it was, that another Inquisitor proved from St. Paul’s Words, Hereticum devita, that Christians were commanded to deprive Hereticks of their Lives.

The Secretary writes down whatever is said judicially in the Inquisition.

The Advocate Fiscal prosecutes the Prisoner with his utmost skill and diligence to convict him of Heresy.

The Treasurer has the Estate and all the Goods of the Prisoner put into his hands, when the Prisoner is apprehended.

The Familiars are the Bayliffs of the Inquisition; which tho it is a vile Office in all other Criminal Courts, is esteemed so honourable in this of the Inquisition, that there is not a Nobleman in the Kingdom that is not in it, and such are commonly employ’d by the Inquisitors to apprehend People; Neither is it any wonder, that Persons of the highest Quality do desire to be thus employ’d, since the same plenary Indulgence is by the Pope granted to every single Exercise of this Office, as was granted by the Lateran Council to those that succoured the Holy Land.

The Goalers are directed by the Inquisitors, how to dispose of, and how to treat their Prisoners, and are straitly charged not to give, nor to suffer them to have any manner of Intelligence.

The Inquisitors, and all their Officers do take an Oath, not to discover any thing that is said or done within the Walls of the Inquisition to any Person whatsoever, neither is there any thing more severely punished by this Court, than the Violation of that Oath.

And whereas the Pope’s having thus appointed Inquisitors to be the Judges of Heresie, was a great Incroachment on the Episcopal Jurisdiction, which the Papal eyes since it pretended to be Monarchical, has sought by a thousand ways to lessen; the Popes, to make this Encroachment go down the easier, allowed two Privileges to the Bishops; the one was, that the Inquisitors should not have Authority to Imprison a Bishop: And the other was, that before they condemned any Person as a Heretick, they should send to the Bishop of the Place, to concur with them in that Sentence; which two Constitutions, though they are still in force, are of little benefit to the Bishops; who tho they may not be imprisoned upon suspicion of Heresy by the Inquisitors, may be confined to their Houses by them, until they have inform’d the Pope, as the Archbishop of Toledo was in the Reign of Philip II. And if the Bishop, when he is acquainted with the Process of the Prisoner, should refuse to agree to his being condemned, the Inquisitors may pass Sentence notwithstanding; for in this, as in all other Cases, the Divine Authority of Bishops, when it happens to clash as they term it, with the Papal, must still give way to it.

The Court of Inquisition proceeds summarily, and most commonly upon a Denuntiation, as they term it, which does not, like an Accusation, disable the Person that makes it to be a Witness. The Inquisition forceth all to inform that can do it, by Edicts in the Form following.

To all, and singular Christians, as well Ecclesiasticks as Laicks of both Sexes, of whatsoever Degree, Order, Condition, Preeminence, Dignity, or Authority, the highest not excerpted. Know ye, That we by the Series and Tenor of these Presents, and by our Authority, and by that of the Office we execute here, do Charge and Command, That within twelve Days after the Publication hereof, (the first four of which are to be as the first, and the next four as the second and the last four as a peremptory and third Canonical Admonition) all that do know or suspect any of Heresy, do come and inform against them, upon Pain of the greater Excommunication latae Sententiae, which shall be ipso facto incurred, and from which they cannot be absolved by any, but by our Lord the Pope, or by us. And we do further Certify, That whosoever, despising the Penalty of this Excommunication, shall forbear to inform us, shall moreover be proceeded against as a Favourer of Hereticks.

If the Informer, when he comes in, names any Witnesses besides himself, they are sent for privately, and before they are examined, do take an Oath, not to discover to any Person their having been with the Inquisitors, nor to speak of any thing they said, saw, or heard within that Court.

All People, tho never so infamous, and tho they stand convicted of Perjury, are in favour of the Faith, and in detestation of Hereticks, admitted by the Inquisition to be Witnesses, Mortal Enemies only excepted.

This Exception is of little Benefit to the Prisoner, by reason of his not knowing who they are that have informed and witnessed against him.

The Depositions of the Informer, and Witnesses, if there be any, being thus privately taken, a Familiar is sent for, and being come, he has the following Order put into his Hand.

By the Command of the Reverend Father N. an Inquisitor of Heretical Pravity, let N. be apprehended and committed to the Prisons of this Holy Office, and not be released out of them but by the express Order of the said Reverend Inquisitor.

If several Persons are to be taken up at the same time, the Familiars are commanded so to order things, that they may know nothing of one another’s being apprehended; and at this the Familiars are so expert, that a Father and his three Sons, and three Daughters, who lived together in the same House, were all carried Prisoners to the Inquisition, without knowing any thing of one another’s being there, until seven Years afterwards, when they that were alive, came forth in an Act of the Faith.

The Prisoner being apprehended and carried with all possible Secrecy to the Inquisition, is delivered to the Goaler.

The Prisons of the Inquisition are little dark Rooms, and have no other Furniture but a hard Quilt, and an useful Pot. The Prisoners are not suffered to see any Body but their Keeper, who brings them their Diet, and with it a lighted Lamp, which burns about half an Hour; neither must their Keeper, without Leave from the Inquisitors, entertain any Discourse with them.

After the Prisoner has spent two or three Days and Nights, perhaps Weeks or Months, in his melancholy Apartment, he is carried by his Keeper before the Inquisitors; who, before they ask him a Question, do make him take an Oath to return true Answers to all their Interrogatories; and if he has ever been guilty of any Heresy to confess it to them.

The first Question the Prisoner is asked, is, Whether he knows why he was taken up by the Inquisition? And if he answers, That he does not know; he is then asked, Whether he knows for what Crimes the Inquisition useth to imprison People? If he answers, For Heresy; he is admonished, upon the Oath he has taken, to confess all his Heresies, and to discover all his Teachers and Complices. If the Prisoner denies that he ever held any Heresies, or had ever Communication with any Hereticks, he is gravely told, That the Holy Office does not use to imprison People rashly, or without having good Grounds for what they do, and that therefore he would do well to confess his Guilt; and that the rather, because the Holy Office, contrary to the Custom of all other Courts, is severe to those that deny, but merciful to all that confess their Guilt.

If the Prisoner persists in denying that he ever held any Heresies, his Goaler is called in, and commanded to carry him back to the Place from whence he came, and the Prisoner is admonished strictly to examine his own Conscience, that the next time they send for him, he may be prepared to make a true and full Confession of all his Heresies, Teachers, and Complices. The Prisoner having been allowed two or three Days, perhaps Weeks or Months, more to do this in, is brought before the Inquisitors a second time, and is asked, Whether he comes prepared to confess? And if he answers, That he cannot without accusing himself or others falsly, make any such Confession as they desire of him; they do then ask him, Where he was born, and what his Parents were, and where he went to School, and who were his School-masters, and where he has lived all his time, and with whom he has conversed most, and who has been his Confessor, and when he was last at Confession, and at the Sacrament? with twenty more such Questions: And being told, That they have sufficient Proof of his being an Heretick; they command him, since he cannot repent of his Heresies, unless he confesseth them all, to go back to his Prison, and there pray to God for Grace to dispose him to make a true and full Confession to the saving of his Soul, which is all they seek after. And being again allowed a considerable time to pray, and consider on what the Inquisitors have said to him, he is brought before them a third time; and in case he persists in pleading, Not guilty, he is then asked some Questions concerning divers Heretical Doctrines, but without acquainting him with the Particulars he is charged withal, for fear of leading him thereby to the Knowledge of the Informers or Witnesses: For Example, Whether he believes Christ to be bodily present in the Sacrament, and that it is lawful to adore Images, and to pray to Saints and Angels? And if he affirms, That he did always firmly believe these, and all the other Doctrines of the Roman Church; he is asked, If he always believed these Doctrines, how he came to speak against them? and if he denies that he ever did, he is then told, That since he is so obstinate in his Heresies, of which they have a sufficient Proof before them, they will order their Advocate Fiscal to form his Process, and to convict him of them. But in case the Inquisitors have not sufficient Evidence, notwithstanding that, to draw a Confession from the Prisoner, they have told him oftner than once, That they had, they do then fall a Note lower, and tell the Prisoner, That though they may not have sufficient Proof of his Heretical Words and Actions to convict him of them, that yet they have sufficient to put him on the Rack to make him confess them. And having fixed the Day when he is to undergo the Tortures, when that dismal Day comes, if he does not prevent it by such a Confession as is expected from him, he is led to the Place where the Rack is, attended by an Inquisitor, and a Publick Notary, who is to write down the Answers the Prisoner returns to the Questions which shall be put to him by the Inquisitor, whilst he is upon the Rack. During the time the Executioner is preparing that Engine of unspeakable Cruelty, and is taking off the Prisoner’s Clothes to his Shirt and Drawers the Inquisitor is still exhorting the Prisoner to have Compassion both on his Body and Soul, and by making a true and full Confession of all his Heresies, to prevent his being tortured. But if the Prisoner saith, That he will suffer any thing rather than accuse himself or others falsly, the Inquisitor commands the Executioner to do his Duty, and to begin the Torture; which in the Inquisition is given by twisting a small Cord hard about the Prisoners naked Arms, brought behind his Back, and hoisting him up from the Ground by an Engine to which the Cord is fastned: And as if the miserable Prisoner’s hanging in the Air by his Arms, were not torment enough, he has several Quassations or shakes given him; which is done by screwing his body up higher, and letting it down again with a jerk, which disjoints his arms, and after that the torture is much more exquisite than it was before.

When the prisoner is first hoisted from the Ground, an Hour-glass is turned up, and, which, (if he does not prevent it by making such a Confession of his Heresies as the Inquisitor that is present all the while, and is continually asking him Questions, expects from him,) must run out before he is taken down; To promise to make such a confession, if they will take him off the Rack, not being sufficient to procure him that Mercy, no more than his crying out that he shall expire immediately if they do not give him some Ease; that, as the Inquisitors tell us, being no more than all that are upon their Rack do think they are ready to do.

If the Prisoner endures the Rack without confessing any thing, which few, or none, though never so innocent, are able to so do; so soon as the Hour-glass is out, he is taken down, and carried back to his Prison, where there is a Surgeon ready to put his Bones in joint. And though in all other Courts, the Prisoners having endured the Rack without Confessing the Crimes for which they were tortured, clears ’em and makes void all the Evidence that was against them, yet in the Inquisition, where whatsoever Humanity and right Reason have established in favour of the Prisoner, is left to the Discretion of the Judge, it is commonly otherwise; the Prisoners that will not confess any thing, being usually racked twice; and if they stand it out, tho few of them can do that, thrice.

But if the Prisoner makes the Confession the Inquisitor expects he should on the Rack, it is writ down word for word by the Notary, and is, after the Prisoner has had a day or two’s Rest, carry’d to the Prisoner, to set his hand to it, which if the Prisoner does, it puts an end to his Process, the want of sufficient Evidence to have convicted him, being abundantly supply’d by this extorted Confession, being thus signed by him. But in case the Prisoner, when it is brought to him, refuseth to sign it, affirming it to be false, and to have been extorted from him by the Extremity of the Torture, he is then carried to the Rack a second time to oblige him to repeat and sign the same Confession.

It is a very hard matter for any one that is a Prisoner in the Inquisition for Heresy, to escape the Rack, since neither the professing and maintaining the Doctrines to be true wherewith he is charged, nor the denying of them, can secure him from it, the first being commonly Racked, to make them discover their Teachers and Accomplices; and the second, to oblige them to confess their own Guilt. And if a Prisoner does confess his having spoke some Heretical Words, but to save his Estate, stands in his having spoke them rashly, and in a Passion, without an Heretical Mind, he is racked to make him discover whether it was so or not, or whether his Thoughts were not the same with his Words. If a Prisoner either makes no Confession at all, or does not confess the particular Heretical Words or Facts wherewith he stands charged, and with which the Inquisitors will never acquaint him; he is asked whether he has any thing besides his Denial to offer in his own Defence, and if he has to make use of it: For now the Advocate Fiscal, upon their having Evidence enough against him, is ordered to form his Process. Here, if the Prisoner alledgeth, that unless they will be pleased to let him know the particular Heretical Words, or Facts, he stands charged withal, and who the Persons are that have informed and witnessed against him, it will not be possible for him to make any Defence; he is told, that cannot be done, because, to let him know the particular Heretical Words or Facts, might lead him to the Knowledge of the Informers and Witnesses; who by the fundamental Law of the Inquisition, must never either directly or indirectly be discovered to him.

Now for this singular and inhuman Custom of not letting their Prisoners know the particular Facts they stand charged withal, nor who they are that have informed and witnessed against them, the Inquisitors have nothing to say, but that it is necessary to the Security of the Lives of the Accusers and Witnesses, who if they were known, would be in so great danger; that none would dare to venture to inform or bear Witness against Hereticks in their Court. Which Pretence, tho it might have some Ground when Courts of Inquisition where first erected, no Cty, no not Rome itself, having submitted quietly to them when they were first introduced; it is now notorious to all the World, and to none more than to the Inquisitors themselves, that it is altogether groundless, and especially in Spain and Portugal, where the Inquisition is not only established by Law, but by a wonderful Fascination, is so fixed in the Hearts and Affections of the People, that one that should offer the least Affront to another, for having been an Informer or Witness in the Inquisition, would be torn in a thousand Pieces: And did the Prisoners that have been in the Inquisition but know certainly, who the Persons were, that had informed and witnessed against them, they durst not for their ives speak one word against them, or shew them the less Respect on that account.

Now for a Court to continue a Custom so singularly unjust and cruel, and upon a Pretence all the World knows to be altogether groundless, is a Confidence not to be matched any where, that I know of.

The Prisoner being thus deny’d the knowledge of the Things and Persons, without which it is scarce possible for him, tho never so innocent, to make any Defence, he is notwithstanding that, graciously asked by the Inquisitors whether he desires to have an Advocate and Proctor to help him to make it. If the Prisoner saith he would, he is not to name them, but must take those the Inquisitors shall appoint, who before they have seen their Client, must take the following Oath.

J.N. Doctor of both Laws, do in the Presence of the Lord’s Inquisitors of this Place against Heretical Pravity, having my Hand on the Holy Gospel of God, promise and swear sncerely and faithfully to defend and maintain the Cause of N. a Prisoner in the Prisons of this holy Office, who stands accused and impeached for Causes mentioned in its Acts; but so, as not to use any Trick or Cavil, or to instruct my said Client how to conceal the Truth in Judgment. And I do farther promise and swear, That if I shall by any way discover my said Client to be guilty of the Crime or Crimes wherewith he stands charged, I will thereupon immediately dismiss his Cause. And if by having searched narrowly into his Case, I shall discover that he has had Complices in his Heresies, I will give Information against them to this holy Office: All which I do promise upon Pain of Perjury, and of an Excommunication, from which I cannot be absolved by any but by this holy Office. So help me God, and these holy Gospels.

The same Oath is taken by the Prisoner’s Proctor, as the Inquisitors call him, tho in Truth, both he and the Advocate are the Inquisitors Engines, made use of to fish what they can out of the Prisoner against himself and his Friends, rather than any thing else.

The Prisoner being thus fitted with an Advocate and Proctor, who are not suffered to know any thing more of his Accusers, and of the Witnesses against him, than he himself knows; he is asked by them whether he would have any Questions put by the Inquisitors to those that have informed and witnessed against him, or would have them examined upon any Points: And in case the Prisoner furnisheth his Advocate with any such Questions or Points, they are put by him into Form, and delivered to the Inquisitors.

The Prisoner is asked also whether he has any Witnesses of his Orthodoxy; and if he names any, they are sent for, and heard by the Inquisitors. And as these Witnesses do go to the Inquisition with trembling Hearts, so they are extremely cautious, not to say any thing concerning the Prisoner, that shall imply their having lived in any intimacy with him, for fear of bringing themselves under a Suspicion of Heresy. And by the Laws of the Inquisition, no Relation of the Prisoners within the fourth Degree can be a Witness for him. When the Prisoners Advocate and Proctor are dismissed, they take an Oath that they have no Copy of the Defence the Prisoner made for himself, and that they will never speak of it to any Person whatever, neither is the Prisoner ever suffered to see the Depositions of his own fearful Witnesses, no more than the Depositions of those that are against him.

Beside the fore mentioned, there is another common Process in the Inquisition, which is against those that have murder’d themselves, or died a natural Death in their Prisons. The Process against the first is short; A Prisoner’s having murdered himself being judged such an Evidence of his Guilt, as is sufficient to convict him of the Heresies wherewith he was charged. The Process against the second is carry’d on by the Advocate Fiscal in the same manner as it would have been, had the Prisoner been alive, and the Prisoner’s Relations and Friends, or any other that have any thing to offer in Defence of the Deceased, are by a publick Edict summon’d to appear before the Inquisitors within forty Days, to give their Evidence; and if upon this Summons none do appear to offer any thing in Vindication of the Deceased, as I believe few are ever so hardy as to do that, the Deceased, after the Expiration of that Term of Days, is acquitted, or condemned, in the same manner that he would have been had he been alive. And if he is condemned, his whole Estate is forfeited, and his Body and Effigies are burnt at the next Act of the Faith, as are the Bodies and Effigies of those that have murdered themselves.

But the Power of the Inquisition extends not only to those that died in its Prisons, but to the Bodies, Estates and good Names of all, that, after their Decease, shall be convicted of having died Hereticks. And tho as to the Estates of those that are convicted of having dy’d Hereticks, they can go no farther than forty Years, as to the taking of their Bones out of their Graves and burning them, and the depriving them of their good Name, there is no Limitation of Time.

When a competent number of Prisoners are convicted of Heresy, either by their own voluntary, or extorted Confession, or upon the Evidence of certain Witnesses, a Day is fix’d by the chief Inquisitor for a Jayl-delivery, which is called by them, an Act of the Faith, and which is always upon a Sunday. In the Morning of the Day the Prisoners are all brought into a great Hall, where they have the Habits put on they are to wear in the Procession, which begins to come out of the Inquisition about 9 of the Clock in the Morning.

The first in the Procession are the Dominican Fryars, who carry the Standard of the Inquisition, which on the one side hath their Founder, Dominic’s Picture, and on the other side the Cross, betwixt an Olive Tree and a Sword, with this Motto, Justicia & Misericordia: Next after the Dominicans come the Penitents, some with Benitoes, and some without, according to the nature of their Crimes. They are all in black Coats without Sleeves, and barefooted, with a Wax Candle in their hands. Next come the Penitents who have narrowly escap’d being Burnt, who over their black Coat have Flames painted, with their Points turned downward, to signify their having been saved, but so as by Fire. This Habit is call’d by the Portugueze, Feugo [sic] revolto, or Flames turned up side down. Next come the Negative or Relapsed that are to be Burnt, with Flames upon their Habit, pointing upwards, and next come those who profess Doctrines contrary to the Faith of the Roman Church, and who besides Flames on their Habit pointing upward, have their Picture, which is drawn two or three days before upon their Breasts, with Dogs, Serpents, and Devils, all with open Mouths painted about it.

Pegna, a Famous Spanish Inquisitor, calls this Procession, Horrendum ac tremendium Spetaculum, and so it is in truth, there being something in the Looks of all the Prisoners, besides those that are to be Burnt, that is ghastly and disconsolate, beyond what can be imagined; and in the Eyes and Countenance of those that are to be Burnt, there is something that looks fierce and eager.

The Prisoners that are to be Burnt alive, besides a Familiar, which ll the rest have, have a Jesuit on each hand of them, who are continually preaching to them, to abjure their Heresies; but if they offer to speak any thing in defence of the Doctrines they are going to suffer Death for professing, they are immediately gagg’d, and not suffer’d to speak a Word more.

This I saw done to a Prisoner, presently after he came out of the Gates of the Inquisition, upon his having look’d up to the Sun, which he had not seen before in several Years, and cry’d out in a Rapture; How is it possible for People that behold that glorious Body, to worship any Being but him that created it? After the Prisoners comes a Troop of Familiars on Horseback, and after them the Inquisitors, and other Officers of the Court upon Mules; and last of all comes the Inquisitor General upon a White Horse, led by 2 Men, with a black Hat, and a green Hatband, and attended by all the Nobles, that are not employ’d as Familiars in the Procession.

In the Terreiro de Paco (which may be as far from the Inquisition as White-hall is from Temple-bar) there is a Scaffold erected, which may hold two or three thousand People; at the one end sit the Inquisitors, and at the other end the Prisoners, and in the same order as they walked in the Procession, those that are to be burnt, being seated on the highest Benches behind the rest, which may be ten Foot above the Floor of the Scaffold.

After some Prayers, and a Sermon, which is made up of Encomiums of the Inquisition, and Invectives against Hereticks, a Secular Priest ascends a Desk, which stands near the middle of the Scaffold, who having first taken all the Abjurations of the Penitents who kneel before him, one by one in the same Order they walked in the Procession, at last recites the final Sentence of the Inquisition upon those that are to be put to Death, in the Words following:

We, the Inquisitors of Heretical Pravity, having, with the Concurrence of the most Illustrations N. Lord Archbishop of Lisbon, or of his Deputy, N. called on the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ, and of his Glorious Mother, the Virgin Mary, and sitting on our Tribunal, and Judging, with the Holy Gospels lying before us, that in our Judgment may be, is the sight of God, and our Eyes may behold what is just in all Matters betwixt the Magnifick Doctor N. Advocate Fiscal on the one part, and you, N. now before us on the other, we have Ordained, that is this place, and on this day you should receive your definitive Sentence;

We do therefore by this our Sentence put in Writing, define, pronounce, declare, and sentence thee, N. of the City of Lisbon, to be a Convicted, Confessing, Affirmative, and Professed Heretick, and so be deliver’d, and left by us as such, to the Secular Arm: and we by this our Sentence, do cast thee out of the Ecclesiastical Court, as a Convicted, Confessing, Affirmative and Professed Heretick, and we do leave and deliver thee to the Secular Arm, and to the Power of the Secular Court; but at the same time do most earnestly beseech that Court so to moderate its Sentence, as not to touch thy Blood, or to put thy Life in any danger.

Is there in all History, an Instance of so gross and confident a Mockery of God, and the World, as this of the Inquisitors earnestly beseeching the Civil Magistrates not to put the Hereticks they have condemned, and delivered to them, to death? For were they in earnest when they make this Solemn Petition to the Secular Magistrates, why do they bring their Prisoners out of the Inquisition, and deliver them to those Magistrates, in Coats painted over with Flames? why do they teach, that Hereticks, above all other Malefactors, ought to be punished with Death? And why do they never resent the Secular Magistrates having so little regard to their earnest and joynt Petition, as never to fail to Burn all the Hereticks which are delivered to ’em by the Inquisition, within an Hour or two after they have them in their hands? And why in Rome, where the Supreme, Civil, and Ecclesiastical Authority are lodged in the same Person, is this Petition of the Inquisition, which is made there as well as in other places, never granted? Certainly, not to take any notice of the old Canon, which forbids the Clergy to have any hand in the Blood of any Person whatsoever, would be a much less Dishonour to the Inquisition, than to pretend to go on, observing that Canon, by making a Petition which is known to be so contrary to their Principles and Desires.

The Prisoners are no sooner in the hands of the Civil Magistrate, than they are loaded with Chains, before the Eyes of the Inquisitors, and being carried first to the Secular Goal, are within an Hour or two brought from thence before the Lord Chief Justice, who, without knowing any thing of their particular Crimes, or of the Evidence that was against them, asks ’em one by one, In what Religion they do intend to die? If they answer, that they will die in the Communion of the Roman Church, they are condemned by him, To be carried forthwith to the place of Execution, and there to be first strangled, and afterwards burnt to Ashes. But if they say, They will die in the Protestant, or in any other Faith that is contrary to the Roman, they are then sentenced by him, To be carry’d forthwith to the place of Execution, and there to be burnt alive.

At the place of Execution, which at Lisbon is the Ribera, there are so many Stakes set up as there are Prisoners to be burnt, with a good quantity of dry Furz about them. The Stakes of the Profess’d, as the Inquisitors call them, may be about four Yards high, and have a small Board [whereupon] the Prisoner is to be seated, within half a Yard of their top. The Negative and Relapsed being first strangled and burnt, the Profess’d go up a Ladder betwixt the two Jesuits which have attended them all Day; and when they are come even with the forementioned Board, they turn about to the People, and the Jesuits spend near a Quarters of an Hour, exhorting the Profess’d to be reconciled to the church of Rome; which if they refuse to be, the Jesuits come down, and the Executioner ascends, who, having turned the Profess’d off the Ladder upon the Seat, and chained their Bodies close to the Stakes, he leaves them, and the Jesuits go up to them a second time, to renew their Exhortation to them, and at parting tell them, That they leave them to the Devil, who is standing at their Elbow to receive their Souls and carry them with him into the Flames of Hell-Fire, so soon as they are out of their Bodies. Upon this a great Shout is raised, and as soon as the Jesuits are off the Ladders, the cry is, Let the Dog’s Beards, Let the Dog’s Beards be made; which is done by thrusting flaming Furzes fastened to a long Pole against their Faces. And this Inhumanity is commonly continued until their Faces are burnt to a Coal, and is always accompanied with such loud Acclamations of Joy as are not to be heard upon any other occasion; a Bull-Feast, or a Farce being dull Entertainments to the using of a profess’d Heretick thus inhumanely.

The Professt’s Beards having been thus made, or trim’d, as they call it in jollity, Fire is set to the Furz which are at the bottom of the Stake, and above which the Professt are chained so high, that the top of the Flame seldom reacheth higher than the Seat they sit upon; and if there happen to be a Wind (to which that Place is much exposed) it seldom reacheth so high as their Knees: So that though if there be a Calm, the Professt are commonly dead in about half an hour after the Furz is set on fire; yet if the Weather prove windy, they are not after that dead in an hour and a half, or 2 Hours, and so are really roasted, and not burnt to Death. But tho out of Hell there cannot possibly be a more lamentable Spectacle than this, being joined with the Sufferers (so long as they are able to speak) crying out, Misericordia por amor de Dios, Mercy for the love of God; yet it is beheld by People of both Sexes, and of all Ages, with such Transports of Joy and Satisfaction, as are not on any other occasion to be met with.

And that the Reader may not think that this inhumane Joy may be the Effect of a natural Cruelty that is in those Peoples disposition, and not of the Spirit of their Religion, he may rest assured, that all publick Malefactors, besides Hereticks, have their violent Deaths no where more tenderly lamented, than among the same People, and even when there is nothing in the manner of their Deaths that appears inhumane or cruel.

Within a few Days after the Execution, the Pictures of all that have been burnt, and which were taken off their Breasts when they were brought to the Stake, are hung up in St. Domingo’s Church, whose West End, tho very high, is all covered over with these Trophies of the Inquisition hung up there in honour to Dominic, who, to fulfil his Mother’s Dream, was the first Inventor of that Court; Dominic’s Mother, when she was ready to be brought to Bed of him, having dream’d that she was delivered not of a humane Creature, but of a fierce Dog, with a burning Torch in his Mouth.


A List of the Persons who received their Sentences n the Act of the Faith, celebrated in the City of Lisbon, on the 10th of May, 1682.

[We omit numerous people whom Geddes itemizes having died in prison or sentenced sub-capitally, e.g., flogging, imprisonment, deportation to colonial Brazil, the galleys, and so forth. -ed.]

The Persons delivered to the Secular Arm.

[Age] 43, Gaspar Lopez Pereire, a New Christian, a Merchant, a Batchelor, the Son of Francisco Lopez Pereire, a Native of the Town of Mogadouro, an Inhabitant of Madrid, and Resident in this City of Lisbon, convicted, confessing, affirmative, professing the Law of Moses, Obstinate, and Impenitent.

[Age] 33, Antonio de Aguiar, a New Christian, a Merchant, a Native of Lamilunilla, near to Madrid, an Inhabitant of Sevil, and Resident in this City of Lisbon, convicted, confessing, affirmative, professing the Law of Moses, Obstinate, Impenitent.

[Age] 42, Miguel Henriques da Fonseca, a New Christian, an Advocate, Native of the Town of Avios, an Inhabitant in this City of Lisbon, convicted, confessing, affirmative, professing the Law of Moses, Obstinate, Impenitent.

These three were burnt alive, within two Hours after the Inquisition had delivered them to the Secular Arm.

[Age] 32, Pero Serraon, more than half a New Christian, a Batchelor the Son of Antonio Serraon, an Apothecary, who is in the List, a Native, and Inhabitant of this City, convicted, Negative, and Obstinate.

This last was first strangled, and afterwards burnt to Ashes with the other Three.

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1731: Elizabeth Needham fatally pilloried

Add comment April 30th, 2020 Headsman

On this date in 1731 the English madam Elizabeth Needham stood in the pillory at Park Place, St. James’s, London. It wasn’t a death sentence de jure … but it became one de facto.

“Mother Needham” kept one of London’s most renowned brothels, far more exclusive than the dives of Covent Garden, and she made herself famous enough in the 1710s and 1720s to rate a place in the burgeoning print culture: Alexander Pope makes sly reference to her in The Dunciad, and as Hogarth seems to have modeled the titular courtesan of his Harlot’s Progress plates upon her.


Needham was famous for her recruiting talent. Here, Hogarth’s pockmarked Needham figure inveigles a pretty lass — the series’s central character, “Moll Hackabout” — freshly arriving to London from the hinterlands, while actual Needham client (and notorious sex-beast*) Francis Charteris leers from the stoop. In a subsequent panel in this same series, Hackabout as a seasoned whore encounters another Executed Today customer.

In her heyday a variety of japes, capers, and scandals unfolded in her precincts, beyond the obvious that was her stock in trade. For a number of years she carried out business unmolested by any chastisement from the law, but she suffered a couple of arrests in the 1720s and the heat on London’s brothels escalated uncomfortably with the onset of the 1730s. Thus it was that the wily old procuress earned a conviction for keeping a disorderly house on April 29, 1731.

Her punishment included a small fine and the duty to stand twice in the pillory, exposed to public obloquy. We have already noted in these pages that the horrors of such an ordeal extended beyond the reputational to an outright threat to life and limb. While it was not unheard-of for the pillorying to invert into a ritual of celebration and triumph for its sufferer were the crowd in sympathy, “it would seem that the default crowd at the pillory attended in expectation of an aggressive event.” (“Sodomites in the Pillory in Eighteenth-century London” by Peter Bartlett, Social & Legal Studies, December 1997)

This image of a crowd expecting to abuse the convict is consistent with the report in Fogg’s Weekly Journal in November 1728:

One Mitchel stood in the Pillory in Little Britain, for designing to extort Money from a Gentleman, by threatening to swear a detestable Sin against him [i.e., sodomy] — It was reported that he was to stand again in Aldersgate-street, upon which Occasion the Populace assembled, having furnish’d themselves with dead Cats, and other Ammunition used upon such Occasions, but the Person who was to make all the Sport not appearing, they diverted themselves with throwing their dead Cats at one another.

Elizabeth Needham had a wide notoriety that would have been especially charged in a mob’s eyes by her association with a villain like Charteris: we see her in Hogarth’s illustration above (not yet completed as of the time of her death) as the corrupt agent of predatory magnates. Moreover, she was apparently already weakened by illness. And although she was suffered simply to lie face down on the stage rather than standing dangerously exposed in the apparatus — and although she could afford to hire bodyguards to keep the crowd somewhat at bay — she received the aggressive version of the crowd whose abuse proved fatal to her.

Rictor Norton’s invaluable compilations of reporting on eighteenth century crime capture grub street’s coverage of the frightful end of Mother Needham (and one unfortunate spectator):

The famous Mother Needham was set before the pillory facing Park-place. She was so very ill, that she laid along under the pillory, notwithstanding which she was severely pelted, and it is thought she will die in a day or two … A boy getting upon a lamp post near the pillory, fell from the same upon iron spikes, and tore his belly in so violent a manner, that his bowels came out, and he expired in a few hours in great agonies …

Tuesday, May 4. Yesterday morning died Mother Needham … She declared in her last words, that what most affected her was the terror of standing in the pillory to-morrow in New Palace-Yard, having been so ungratefully used by the populace on Wednesday … They acted very ungratefully, considering how much she had done to oblige them.

* Charteris caught his own death sentence in 1730 for raping a servant, although he had the pull to obtain a royal pardon — with the aid of one of those familiar squid-inking campaigns of smearing his victim and casting doubt on the circumstances. “All the world agree he deserved to be hanged long ago, but they differ whether on this occasion,” one noble confided to his diary.

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1327: Beomondo di San Severo

Add comment April 15th, 2020 Headsman

An Italian friar known as Beomondo di San Severo was flogged to death in Naples on this date in 1327 at the behest of the Inquisition.

Little is known of him; the case was unearthed from the Neapolitan archives in the 20th century, striking to audiences of that period for the man’s surprising presagement of … evolutionary biology?

Man therefore, in his original and primordial condition, was immersed almost in a mixture of elements, and came to light by chance, as [writes] Augustine in the books of the Trinity: for this reason God is called only Conditor ac Administrator, because man did not arise from the mud of the earth by the will of God. For this reason also the psalms say that man was born from the earth. Therefore, so men descend from men as God descends from God.

In context this can’t have been merely an idea about the origins of life on earth, however heretical: the whiff of radical egalitarianism is clear enough here, and would be right at home in these years of a many-headed bottom-up challenge to pontifical authority — the Friars Minor (to which Beomondo belonged), the Beghards and Beguines, and millenarian rebels like Fra Dolcino. 1327 is the very hear in which Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose unfolds.

Alas, the scanty documentary trail means that a similarly perspicacious novelist will be required to imagine Beomondo’s own life and thought in full. One question that volume have to grapple with is the reason for the anomalous and very brutal execution by lash, when the pyre would ordinarily be anticipated for heresy.

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1560: Giambatista Cardano, “crowning misfortune”

Add comment April 13th, 2020 Headsman

On this date in 1560, the son of Renaissance polymath Gerolamo Cardano was beheaded for murdering his — the son’s — wife.

While Cardano pere was one of the great intellectuals of his era, and has been covered in these grim annals via his interest in a genius composer executed for sodomy, the fils earns notice merely for his famous relations.

The latter, Giambatista Cardano by name, committed nothing but a shabby domestic murder, dosing his wife Brandonia di Seroni — “a worthless, shameless woman” in Gerolamo’s estimation — with arsenic when he had tired of her infidelities.

Still, it is the burden of a father to love his firstborn no matter how undistinguished and homicidal. Cardano poured his sorrow into a long funerary verse, not neglecting therein to defend the prerogatives of a jealous husband’s “avenging right hand”; we obtain it from the old man’s autobiography.

A Lament on the Death of My Son

Who has snatched thee away from me —
O, my son, my sweetest son?
Who had the power to bring to my age
Sorrows more than I can count?
Wrath in whose soul or what stern fate
Willed to reap thy youth’s fair flower?
Not Calliope, not Apollo,
Served thee in thine hour of need!
Cithara, now, and all song be still;
Measures of threnodies shall renew
Mourning and sighs for my dear son.
— Strains of his singing haunt me still —
Laurels, alas, in the healing art,
Knowledge of things, and a facile gift
Of Latin tongue—what profit these
Labors long if they swiftly die?
Service rendered Spanish prince,
Duty done to the noblest of men
Help thee naught if with these for thy judge
Death with his scythe doth seek thy blood.

What, ah me, shall I do? My soul
Swoons to remember thee, gentle son;
Silent, I brood on thy destiny grim;
Tears that I dare not give to words,
Shall I not shed for my stricken son?
Lasting encomium had I reserved,
Fitting reward to thine ashes paid;
Silence — O shame — must my tongue now guard,
Death unjust nor its cause announce.
Grave are the ills thou hast borne, mild son.
Prince and Senate and ancient law
Ordered thy doom whilst thou in rash haste,
Brought an adultress the wage of her crime.
Safely adultery now in our homes
Mocks and insults when punishment swift
Stays the avenging right hand of the youth.

Son — the reflection true of the good
Strong in my father — worthy to live
Long through the years — Alas, my beloved!
Fates have forbidden and swept all that good
Far past the stars, and removed from gray earth
Every bright and illustrious thing.
Hail thee, child, for thy spirit high!
Clear is thy blood from ignoble stain;
Honor of forefather’s hast thou sought.
Far stands the king, and hope of safety,
Phoebus denies the lands his beams,
Light from Diana passes and dies,
Stars in the calm sky glance no more
Lest they look down on a palace foul,
Stained with the reeking blood of the slain.

Where lies my way? What land now claims
Body and limbs disfigured by death?
Son, is there naught but this to return?
Thee have I followed on sea and on land!
Fix me — if mercy is anywhere found —
Pierce me with weapons, O ye mad Gods!
Take with thy first blow my dreary life.
Pity me thou, oh great father of Gods,
Thrust with thy spear my hated head
Deep into Tartara; else am I bound
Hardly to burst this life’s bitter chains.
This, O my son, was not pledged to thy sire,
Love so unholy to trust with thine all —
Love that has ruined thee, son of my heart!

Wife of a memory blessed and true,
Happy thy death, nor spared for this grief!
I, through this crime, have myself brought disgrace,
O son to our name, for by envy compelled,
Homeland and Lares paternal I left.
Death had I sought for my innocent soul,
But surviving and living I vanquished my fate.

Ages to come will know, son, thy name,
Orient lands will hear of thy fame;
Dead to us thou art indeed —
Life hast thou won through all the earth!

It would be fair to say that this last vow of the grieving father was not kept. Indeed, the misery of losing his son to the executioner cast an enervating pall over the elder Cardano’s remaining years. “My supreme, my crowning misfortune,” he bewailed. “Because of this, it was neither becoming for me to be retained in my office [a professor of medicine at Pavia], nor could I justly be dismissed. I could neither continue to live in my native city with any peace, nor in security move elsewhere. I walked abroad an object of scorn; I conversed with my fellows abjectly, as one despised, and, as one of unwelcome presence, avoided my friends.”

A couple of years on and the unwelcomeness had become overwhelming; he relocated to a professorship in Bologna — nowise happy but at least clear of the omnipresent, suffocating shame associated with his name. The man’s woes were in no way alleviated by his surviving son Aldo, a thief and all-around lowlife whom Cardano ended up disinheriting. (Lone daughter Chiara was A-OK by pops apart from being unable to bear him grandchildren: “from my daughter alone have I suffered no vexations beyond the getting together of her dowry.”)

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 16th Century,Arts and Literature,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Italy,Murder,Sex,Torture

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1572: Annecke Lange, Gesche Herbst, and Annecke Rotschroeder

Add comment March 28th, 2020 Headsman

On this date in 1572, Annecke Lange, Gesche Herbst, and Annecke Rotschroeder were all condemned and burned at Neustadt am Rübenberge, as witches and poisoners.

Although commoners, they were the luckless casualties of misbegotten marital politics in the Holy Roman Empire, and in the words of Tara Nummedal in Anna Zieglerin and the Lion’s Blood: Alchemy and End Times in Reformation Germany, “the entire incident laid bare simultaneously the fear of poison and sorcery and the reluctance to advance witch accusations against women of elite status in the princely courts of central Europe.”

The particular princely court of interest for us is that of Eric(h) II, Duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg, a Lutheran convert who married a House of Wettin princess called Sidonie of Saxony. It was one of those love-matches by which the bluebloods slip the bonds of arranged dynastic alliances and often, of historical irrelevancy. ‘Tis a likely antechamber to the volumes of Executed Today.

Sidonie was a decade Eric’s senior, leading one wise grandee to predict, “All sorts of things will happen inside this marriage after the kissing month ends.”

Just so. Eric reverted to Catholicism and the childless couple became bitterly estranged — not only over religion, but money, and the want of a child. (Eventually Eric would die without an heir, and pass his realm to a cousin.) So intense would the couple’s antipathy become that they began to suspect one another of seeking an abrupt annulment by the hand of the poisoner.

That hypothesis became self-confirming when Eric fell ill in 1564, and Eric (this is Nummedal again) “initiated an investigation, accusing four women in Neustadt am Rübenberge, close to Hannover, of both trying to poison him and using sorcery to disrupt his marriage, keep him away ‘from his land and people,’ and make Sidonie barren.”

Three of these four women broke under torture and admitted not only poisoning but witchcraft; they were burned in 1568. But the fourth woman, Gesche Role, had the fortitude to withstand her interrogators and was released.

It’s by way of Gesche Role that we arrive at our day’s principals — for in some fresh turn of the diplomatic jockeying between the estranged power couple, Eric renewed his accusation and re-arrested the poor woman upon fresh claims of fiendery. This time she succumbed and confessed — adding, as is the style, a series of charges against five other acquaintances: our three victims, Annecke Lange, Gesche Herbst, and Annecke Rotschroeder; plus, Annecke’s husband Hans Lange, who died under torture; and, a woman named Margarethe Ölse or Ölsin, whose fate was stayed by dint of her pregnancy. Hans Lange had actually been a barber and surgeon who had been in ducal employment, affording some material connection to the “victim’s” plate, but of course all confessions were secured in the usual violent manner.

On the 28th of March, our three victims were condemned at Neustadt and immediately sent to the stake. Several others in the widening witch inquiry shared a like fate later that same year; the overall number of Neustadt “witches” executed from the various procedures initiated by Eric is not known, but might run up towards 60.

The reader will mark that all these souls were merely humble folk destroyed as flies to wanton boys. Witch fires were usually quenched once their flames licked titled estates, and so it was in this case, as the 1572 Hexenprozesse “also implicated a cluster of noblewomen (Anna von Rheden, Katharina Dux, and Margaretha Knigge), and it was not long before Duke Erich’s estranged wife, Sidonie, herself was accused of directing the poison plot against her husband, purportedly because of his relationship with his mistress, Katharina von Weldam. This escalation of the trial as it reached into the nobility proved to be too much, apparently, even for Duke Erich II, who halted the trial before the noblewomen were sentenced,” and after a pause the Holy Roman Emperor reconvened a hearing at which all concerned were exonerated.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 16th Century,Attempted Murder,Burned,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Germany,History,Innocent Bystanders,Public Executions,Torture,Witchcraft,Women

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1985: The Dujail Massacre

Add comment March 23rd, 2020 Headsman

On this date in 1985, 96 Iraqis were executed for an assassination attempt on Saddam Hussein. Though not the only or the largest atrocity of that dictator, it was the crime that would do to hang him under the U.S. occupation.

Two years deep into the horrific Iran-Iraq War, Hussein paid a ceremonial visit to theShi’ite town of Dujail north of Baghdad and was greeted by an armed ambuscade — up to a dozen gunmen springing from the cover of date palms to fire at the president’s motorcade. They missed.*

The ensuing vengeance was visited so widely as to earn the sobriquet Dujail Massacre: something like 1% of the 75,000-strong town wound up in the hands of the torturers, with 148 death sentences handed down and approved by the president — and they were none too exacting about direct complicity in the assassination, freely sweeping up regime opponents and sympathizers with the outlawed Dawa Party.

A document of March 23, 1985, certifies their mass execution although the Iraqi Special Tribunal‘s investigation found this to be a a bit of an overstatement; some had already been executed previously or died of maltreatment in custody, while a few of those still alive were not present in Abu Ghraib on that day. All told, it appears that 96 of the 148 people condemned to death for the attempt on Saddam Hussein’s life were put to death on March 23, 1985. To multiply the injury, the families of the alleged perpetrators also suffered confiscation of their homes and destruction of their orchards.

The detailed documentary trail, and specifically Hussein’s personal approval of the death sentences, recommended this case to the U.S. occupation of the early 2000s as the rope by which to hang the now-deposed dictator and his closest associates. Accordingly, the Dujail Massacre executions formed one of the central charges in the 2005-2006 trial that resulted in Saddam Hussein’s own execution.

* There were a couple of presidential bodyguards killed.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Assassins,Attempted Murder,Capital Punishment,Cycle of Violence,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Hanged,History,Iraq,Mass Executions,Murder,Notable for their Victims,Power,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Terrorists,Torture,Treason,Wartime Executions,Wrongful Executions

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